Monday, June 29, 2009

Not content with bringing our Parliament into disrepute, now—through ignorance—they would destroy it

So, the dust has settled on the expenses affair and our elected representatives have been found sorely lacking. MPs have raped and pillaged the expenses system, using our money not only to fund their lavish lifestyles but also to exempt themselves from the laws that they impose on us—most notably ensuring that they need pay no tax on benefits-in-kind (for many of these claims were not expenses at all, but benefits that, for anyone else, would have been taxable).

However, with truly astonishing stupidity, these venal idiots have come up with a set of solutions that are worse than the original problem. After all, fixing the expenses system would not have been difficult: forcing the annual publishing of all (unredacted) receipts, removing the benefits-in-kind tax exemption and allowing the recall of any MP by his or her constituents would have gone a long way to sort out even the perception of wrong-doing—let alone the ability to get away with it.

But no: the government has decided that they need yet another stupid, expensive and unaccountable QUANGO to ensure that our lords and masters can keep their pudgy, grasping little hands out of the cookie jar.

Your humble Devil opposed this from the outset—if only because it would potentially stop us being able to obtain the details of the expenses under FoI. Besides, if our 646 MPs are unable to manage themselves, then what possible moral (or practical) justification can they put forward for attempting to manage 60 million of us?


However, it gets worse, as Raedwald pointed out, having examined the text of the proposed Bill.
Make no mistake. This is an anti-democratic, pernicious and malign little Bill. Consider this provision;
  • An order under this section may provide .. for specified property, rights and liabilities which subsist wholly or mainly for the purposes of the House of Commons to be transferred to the IPSA by a scheme

You see, Brown's new Quango doesn't merely check MPs' claims—it pays them. Rather than Parliament owning its own pay chest and being its own master, MPs will now be employed by the government. Brown has taken Parliament's resources from them. And who decides just how much of Parliament's property, rights and liabilities are to be transferred to the government? Why, a government minister, of course! With the complicity of Brown's Speaker, Mr Bercow;
  • A scheme made by virtue of subsection (8) is to be made by a Minister of the Crown with the consent of the person who chairs the House of Commons Commission.

The last thing this nation needs is an Act that would pack the chamber with vile apparatchiks and 'professional' politicians, rob the Commons of its authority, turn our parliament into just a department of government and treat our MPs—returned by us to Parliament to exercise the thunderous powers and sovereignty of that body—as mere hirelings, irrelevant juniors.

As distasteful as we may find the corrupt and venal behaviour of the 646 bastards within the House of Commons, we should not confuse or conflate these odious people with Parliament itself. And what this Bill proposes to do is to make Parliament the servant of the government—to make the entirety of Parliament subservient to the Executive.

This is incredibly dangerous; part of the problem with governments over the last few decades is that they have increasingly come to see themselves as the masters of this country—the supreme power over you and I.

What many bloggers have campaigned for is a return to the situation wherein we, the people, wield the power in this country, and wherein MPs acknowledge that we only lend them our power for a short term. And, yes, we were gleeful at the expenses scandals because we thought that the power of the people might be reasserted over a chastened Parliament.

This Bill proposes the very opposite.

Ineffective though the House has been at holding the Executive to account, it was at least able to do it in small respects—especially as the power of this government has waned.

This Bill would remove even that check on an over-weaning Executive, and it most certainly returns no power to us. Indeed, as EUReferendum notes in a comment on Raedwald's post, it does the very opposite.
Such is the sagging morale of our MPs, and their slender grasp of constitutional and democratic principles, that they look to approving this with minimal debate and scrutiny, intent only on "restoring public confidence" in Parliament. Not for them the lesson of the Dangerous Dogs Act, the classic illustration of the principle that rushed law is always bad law.

As to The Telegraph's concerns about inhibiting high-quality people from standing for Parliament, the main deterrent is the singular fact that, progressively, this institution has been robbed of its powers (with the willing assent of its incumbents). Yet this Bill seeks to neuter Parliament even further, continuing its march towards irrelevance.

What is lost here is the very rationale for having Parliament in the first place. It does not belong to the MPs, or government. It is—or should be—our Parliament, there as a bastion against an over-powerful and oppressive executive. Anything that diminishes Parliament diminishes us.

Having lost the plot so long ago, however, our MPs are now conspiring in destroying what little authority they have left. But while they act in haste, we will be the ones to repent at leisure.

I have argued for sometime that Parliament has been giving away powers—to the European Union—that it has no entitlement to: the power is, I repeated many times, lent to them for a period no longer than five years—at the end of which, it must be returned.

Once again, it seems that MPs simply do not get it: yes, they have behaved disgracefully, and they should feel suitably ashamed. Yes, many of them should resign—and some already have.

However, this Bill will not make amends—this Bill will not fix the system. Indeed, it is more akin to them—having been found with their hands in the till—murdering the shopkeeper and burning down the store.

All is not lost, however: as The Sunday Times reports, some MPs seem to have realised the enormity of this desecration and strapped on some testicles.
GORDON BROWN’S plans to create a legally enforceable “code of conduct” for MPs are in turmoil as MPs and peers prepare to reject the scheme.

At least four senior MPs are to table amendments to water down or remove the proposals from the Parliamentary Standards Bill, which is going through the Commons this week.

They include Sir Stuart Bell, the Labour MP on the Commons Commission; Sir George Young, who chairs the committee on standards and privileges; and Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons. The House of Lords has also threatened to throw out the scheme.

It has emerged that neither Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who is charged with pushing through the legislation, nor Harriet Harman, the leader of the Commons,who unveiled the bill last week, knew about the plans for a code of conduct until they were announced by No 10 in The Sunday Times. Whitehall officials drew up new clauses to “fit the press release”.

The wording of the proposed law leaves it open to individuals to take parliament, or MPs, to court. Malcolm Jack, the most senior Commons official, has warned of “litigants trying to make a point”.

Another key section of the bill raises the prospect that the words of MPs, evidence given by witnesses to select committees and other Commons business, could be used as evidence in criminal proceedings, which would undermine the tradition of free speech under “parliamentary privilege”.

Again, via EUReferendum, it seems that the danger is so severe that Mystic Mogg has been coaxed out of his box to bend his great mind to producing a stern warning.
The House of Commons is in danger of cutting its own constitutional throat, but the Clerk of the House is trying to stop them. The clerk is Malcolm Jack, a man of scholarship and courage who is the ultimate referee on all constitutional questions which affect the Commons. His core duty is to advise the House, its Speaker, the committees and MPs on the practice and procedure of the House, and its rights.

Last Friday Dr Jack sent a memorandum to the Standards Committee on the “Privilege Aspects of the Parliamentary Standards Bill”. He gives a serious warning about particular aspects of the Bill, which is expected to be rushed through both Houses of Parliament before the summer recess. The Lords is due to rise on July 21, so time would be very limited. Rushed legislation is usually a disaster, and this would be legislation in a panic.

No shit. The article is well worth reading in full, as Mystic outlines the main concerns with the Bill, and Dr Jack's pedigree and position. But his conclusion is spot on.
The morale of the Commons has of course been shaken by the expenses scandal. I have never seen a comparable loss of confidence. Any healthy institution wants to extend its own authority. The Parliamentary Standards Bill is seeking to deal with a problem which is only too real. Yet the remedy which has been proposed is to reduce the existing rights and functions of the House of Commons, including self-regulation. This is a move in the wrong direction. If the Commons cannot restore its reputation by doing its job better, it will certainly not do so by demonstrating its lack of confidence in its own authority.

The new Bill proposes to create a regulator — the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority — to be called “Ipsa”, which will act as an independent authority for disciplining Parliament. No one in his or her right mind would contemplate joining such a preposterous body, which will start with no authority and is likely to be abolished as soon as anyone finds out that it has been built on sand. Quangos are always vulnerable: they have too many enemies and hardly any friends. They are appointed by politicians to suit their self-interest.

The Clerk of the House should be trusted, partly because he is the 50th in his line, of whom the first was appointed in 1363. If Ipsa is now appointed by Gordon Brown in 2009, it will be lucky to survive through 2010. Britain needs a strong and independent and new House of Commons, which would mean an early election; no one needs an ipsy-dipsy quango.

Quite so. Not only are QUANGOs subject to cronyism and manipulation by higher powers—in this case, the government—but they are democratically unaccountable and that is precisely what is not required in this case.

We need more information published on the internet—with scrutiny being driven by bloggers, if necessary. And, crucially, we need a channel to be able to do something about any abuses that we find—such as the ability to recall MPs.

After all, have politicians not bemoaned the lack of public engagement? This apathy is caused—I, and others like me, believe—by the sense that we can never find out what these bastards are up to and, even if we could, there is nothing that we can do about it.

The publication of documents—such as department spending and MPs' expenses—would give people the opportunity to find out precisely where their money is going; the ability to recall MPs would give the people of this country the sense that they are able to ensure that our politicians are made accountable for their actions.

With a few simple strokes, we can go some way to making our politicians more honest, less proligate and less wasteful and we can re-engage the voters in the politics of this country.

Instead what they have presented us with is something that Raedwald quite rightly terms a Bill that...
... treats us all like fools and is as insulting as a gob of spittle in the face for the voters of Britain.

Well, seriously: what did you expect from the Cyclopean Gobblin' King?

The man has got to go, and so has this government; most of the rest of the MPs have proven themselves untrustworthy and stupid—at best. The only solution is an immediate General Election.

And how shall we force that...?


Anonymous said...

It's the Hegelian Dialectic in action - create the problem, manipulate the response, come up with the solution. The solution being where they wanted to be in the first place but they had to create the problem to get there.
Thesis, synthesis, antithesis.
It works for the 2@s every time.

Anonymous said...

As some of us pointed out at the time, the only sensible solution is a flat rate payable to all MPs, with no additional allowances or expenses.

Anything else is open to abuse - if not by individual MPs, then by the government that wishes to control them.

Prodicus said...

I am extremely grateful to you for pulling all these articles and comments together. Like a lot of other people, I simply don't have the time to read everything I should - or would like to - read.

The subject matter of this post goes to the very heart of how this country is governed. I hope to God Dr Jack wins the argument and that the cretinous liars presently in government are not allowed to push this disaster of a Bill through before the recess.

Thank you for the post. And please do not retire from blogging. Our politics needs you. Swearing and all.