Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nothing To Report?

It is almost 8 weeks since the expenses scandal started to produce a massive upheaval in the politics of the UK. So you would think there would be widespread interest in arguing out what new arrangements can be put in place to see that the scandal is never repeated. But the debate just refuses to take off.

In Parliament : After coming to a rough and ready deal with the leaders of the other parliamentary parties, the Government is pushing through a Parliamentary Standards Bill to try to put the matter to rest. Its Commons' Stages are being rushed through in three days - yesterday, today and tomorrow. If yesterday's proceedings are anything to go by, then only a handful of MPs are themselves willing to contribute to the very matter that has dominated their lives in recent times. The silence is particularly deafening on the Labour side. Excluding the 7 speeches by Front Bench and minor party spokesmen (doing their duty slots) there were 16 speeches by bank-benchers. Only four of these came from the Labour side. The Government side of the House was almost empty. Not one Labour left-winger made as much as an intervention, let alone seeking to speak or even (as far as I could see) showing their presence.

The Committee On Standards in Public Life : Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee is in a peculiar position. They are conducting the inquiry into MPs' expenses and the main three parties leaders have in the past promised to act on whatever the Committee finally recommends. Yet by the Committee report in the autumn, the new Parliamentary Standards Bill is intended to be an Act. So Sir Christopher's recommendations will have to be stuck onto this measure. In the meantime, the media pays little or no attention to what parliament and Sir Christopher's Committee are doing. Nor do the medias' expert commentators seem to come up with any ideas of their own. (If anyone has come across exceptions to this rule, then I would pleased to be supplied with the links).

In the meantime, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has finally managed to publish 102 of the submissions which have been put to it. But that leaves more than 500 submissions still unpublished. Yet some of the material they are sitting on might just hold the efficient secret that will help them resolve this conundrum.

Update 8.15 pm : Two items of significance which have been highlighted during the Commons' debates on the Parliamentary Standards Bill to date appear here and here.


Blogger Brader said...

Harry, I think it is right that we ought to wait for the commission to report before legislating.
I also think that the commission ought to positively seek views from the public, because unless we engage the public in trying to solve the problem it won't go away.

I also think that the public need to be informed of possible solutions (like your services led idea) as part of the process of engaging with the public.

Harry Barnes said...

Blogger Brader/Martin : I agree. But there are problems with the ways (1) Parliament,(2) the Commission and (3) the Media are operating.
(1)Even the current inappropriate Bill with a restricting time-table offers some scope to raise issues, but the procedures are not being used on the Labour side for this purpose, apart from the four Labour back-benchers who made speeches on Monday. Jack Straw is virtually acting on his own and is there to push the Government's case only. I hope that things change today.
(2) I don't think that the Commission has the facilities and understanding to undertake the task we are looking for. All it does with the submissions that have been made to it is to stick them on an obscure web-site and interview a few of the great and the good. Even then it has only so far placed 102 public submissions on its site, over 500 are outstanding.
(3) The main media reports little of any of this and shows no interest in stimulating a debate.

There are many alteratives to my services-led proposal. For example, MPs could be given a large salary increase and no expenses at all, whilst being given tax relief on money spent on second accomodation, staff and the like. Like my own proposal, this is outside of the scope of the current Bill. It would probably be cheaper for the public purse than the current position or under the new Bill.

We have a crisis of Parliamentary Democracy, yet no serious public debate on how to resolve this. For such a debate needs to be stimulated via the above sources who are not doing it.

I will follow today's debate and then see if I need to try to scream beyond this blog. I have not even come across any serious debate on other blogs. If you see any please send me the links.