June 21, 2009
MPs in the running to succeed Michael Martin as House of Commons Speaker on Monday have come under scrutiny in more allegations over expenses claims. Details of tax-funded expenses have been published in The Sunday Telegraph. The paper says Labour’s Margaret Beckett claimed more than £11,000 for gardening and Tory MP John Bercow twice claimed for help with a tax return.
Mr Martin became the first Speaker to be forced from office in 300 years when he stood down last month. MPs are due to choose his replacement on Monday…
Justice secretary Jack Straw told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that the new Speaker would have to restore public trust in Parliament. He said: “We’ve got put partisan interests aside and elect a Speaker who is best placed to lead the House of Commons to a restored position of authority and trust.” Mr Straw added that the amount of information about MPs’ expenses which had been blacked out when they were released on Thursday had left a “terrible impression”.
Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg called for a “people’s Speaker” who would open up Parliament for the 21st century, but warned that whoever landed the job faced a tough task. He said: “Even if we get the best speaker in the world, he or she is really going to have their work cut out. The vested interests at Westminster are already manoevering to water down reform.”
- BBC News
The trouble with putting yourself forward for consideration as the next Speaker of the House of Commons is that unless you’re already whiter than white expenses-wise, it smacks of a last ditch attempt to fill your boots AND save your seat before the next general election.
Michael Martin was the first speaker to be removed from the job in 300 years. Traditionally the £140,000+ per year post is a permanent appointment until you retire, aided by a gentleman’s agreement that other parties won’t field a competing candidate in your constituency (thus guaranteeing your re-election in perpetuity). The all time record of thirty-one years is still held by Arthur Onslow, the “great speaker” from 1728 to 1761.
At the moment the only “clean” MP with any kind of public profile seems to be LibDem Treasury Spokesman Vincent Cable. The former economist has spent most of the last six months as the media’s poster boy for financial probity and would be a popular public choice, but he has refused to join a Labour Government. (He’s probably not the ONLY honest politician in the Commons, but you’d be hard-pressed finding enough of them to make up a bridge party just at the moment).
A Speaker doesn’t have to come from the party of government – strictly speaking he or she is the only really independent MP in the place with responsibility for parliamentary administration rather than national government – but most governments find it ‘convenient’ to have a party loyalist in the chair.
In the current political climate, it would take some very fast and smooth talking to convince the public that the election of another staunch Labourite wouldn’t constitute yet another petty corruption of the institution.
May 22, 2009
A Tory MP is to retire after admitting he claimed a £1,645 “duck island” on expenses – as two Labour ministers face questions over capital gains tax.
Sir Peter Viggers, whose gardening claims totalled £30,000, is to quit at “the direct request of David Cameron”.
Meanwhile Gordon Brown defended James Purnell and Geoff Hoon, saying they had complied with the “spirit and letter” of rules over the sale of London homes. They both insist they did nothing wrong by not paying capital gains tax…
After hearing about the latest expenses revelations, Tory leader David Cameron told Gosport MP Sir Peter he faced the removal of the whip if he did not announce that he would withdraw at the next election.
The Conservatives’ scrutiny panel will decide what figure Sir Peter will have to pay back. Sources say it will be a “substantial sum”.
Sir Peter said the claims he made “were in accordance with the rules at the time, and were all approved by the fees office”.
- BBC News
May 13, 2009
Remind me not to go on holiday again unless it’s a parliamentary recess, will you?
Gordon Brown has said “mistakes” were made by MPs in their use of House of Commons expenses. The prime minister apologised on behalf of all political parties for some of the claims made and said public trust must be restored “immediately”.
Commons Speaker Michael Martin said “serious change” was needed and that the “spirit” of rules must be followed. An independent body auditing expenses claims would be set up “very soon”, he added…
Plans for an independent auditing body to oversee expenses claims are expected to be approved on Monday, following weeks of damaging stories. Senior Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said this would analyse “every claim that is made”.
The Commons fees office is overseen by a committee made up of MPs and independent people – who in turn are overseen by the National Audit Office. The new body would be entirely independent and cost about £600,000 a year to run.
Millions of receipts backing up all MPs’ expenses claims under the second homes allowance are due to be published in July after a long freedom of information campaign.
But details have been leaked to the Telegraph – which has been publishing selected excerpts over the last few days.
There are concerns that the proposed change to the auditing system would mean MPs’ expenses would no longer have to be made public under the freedom of information ruling.
- BBC News
February 5, 2009
Gordon Brown does not think the world is in a depression and comments suggesting otherwise were a slip of the tongue, his spokesman has said.
January 26, 2009
LABOUR peers are prepared to accept fees of up to £120,000 a year to amend laws in the House of Lords on behalf of business clients, a Sunday Times investigation has found.
Four peers — including two former ministers — offered to help undercover reporters posing as lobbyists obtain an amendment in return for cash.
Two of the peers were secretly recorded telling the reporters they had previously secured changes to bills going through parliament to help their clients.
Lord Truscott, the former energy minister, said he had helped to ensure the Energy Bill was favourable to a client selling “smart” electricity meters. Lord Taylor of Blackburn claimed he had changed the law to help his client Experian, the credit check company.
Taylor told the reporters: “I will work within the rules, but the rules are meant to be bent sometimes.”
The other peers who agreed to assist our reporters for a fee were Lord Moonie, a former defence minister, and Lord Snape, a former Labour whip.
The disclosure that peers are “for hire” to help change legislation confirms persistent rumours in Westminster that lobbyists are targeting the Lords rather than the Commons, where MPs are under greater scrutiny.
- Sunday Times, 25th January 2009
The Insight team investigation taped Labour peers touting for business and explaining how to circumvent the parliamentary rules brought in after the “Cash for Questions” scandal in the House of Commons over a decade ago. At worst they face ‘censure’ (being named and shamed) on the floor of the House of Lords, there being no mechanism for peers to be sacked or suspended.
January 19, 2009
Zimbabwe is introducing a Z$100 trillion note, currently worth about US$30 (£20), state media reports.
Other notes in trillion-dollar denominations of 10, 20 and 50 are also being released to help Zimbabweans cope with hyperinflation.
However, the dollarisation of the economy means that few products are available in the local currency.
This is according to BBC News. Not that the UK has much more claim to economic fame if last week’s article in The Telegraph is right, and The Banking Bill now in Parliament makes it possible for the British government to secretly print more money as a way to tackle the current economic crisis.
The Bank said it will still publish details of its balance sheet, but, significantly, the data – the main indicator of the extent of quantitative easing – will not be presented until more than a month has elapsed. For instance, under the new terms of the law, if the Bank were to have embarked on a policy of quantitative easing last month, the figures on this would not be published until the end of this month.
They say a week is a long time in politics, and recent events have shown this to be true for economics as well, so it’s not clear what justification there is for changing the 165-year-old regulation merely to gain an extra three weeks grace.
January 18, 2009
A Labour MP has been suspended from the House of Commons for five days after angry exchanges over the decision to approve a new Heathrow runway.
John McDonnell was sanctioned after he picked up the mace, the ornamental club which represents the royal authority of Parliament, in a breach of protocol.
The Hayes and Harlington MP said the decision not to hold a vote on the runway was a “national disgrace”.
Anyone manhandling the mace is considered in contempt of Parliament.
- BBC News
December 11, 2008
It’s never a good thing when politicians start believing their own press, and what’s worse is when they accidentally out themselves in public doing just that. Mr Brown met criticism of his handling of the financial crisis during prime ministers questions by claiming that the government had “saved the world”.
This in the same week that the German finance minister criticised Brown’s fiscal stimulus package in Newsweek magazine. “The switch from decades of supply-side politics all the way to a crass Keynesianism is breathtaking,” Peer Steinbruck said.
December 3, 2008
The only thing colder than the weather today was the reception that greeted Speaker Michael Martin’s admission that police were allowed to raid Parliamentary offices and arrest Damian Green MP (opposition spokesman on immigration) last week, without even being asked to provide a warrant.
Today was the ceremonial opening of Parliament. No monarch has entered the House of Commons since King Charles the First attempted to arrest five troublesome Members of Parliament in 1642 and was basically told to ‘get stuffed’ by the then Speaker of the House. It sparked the English civil war.
In order to make her speech introducing legislation being proposed for the new parliamentary year, the Queen is seated in the House of Lords (Britain’s upper house). Her representative ‘Black Rod’ is sent to the House of Commons to summon MP’s to listen and has the door slammed in his face, forcing him to knock.
December 1, 2008
This week, members of the Lap-dancing Association (including club owner Peter Stringfellow) appeared before a House of Commons Committee that’s looking into proposals to tighten licencing requirements for this type of club. According to the chairman…
It would be contrary to our business plan to do sexual stimulation,’ he insisted piously.
Cue snorts of disbelief around the room.
‘I suspect you’ll have a lot of dissatisfied customers if you take that view,’ said Philip Davies (Con, Shipley), ever the champion of the consumer.
- Quentin Letts, DAILY MAIL