In response to a question from Bob Spink regarding MPs’ expenses in
business questions yesterday, Harriett Harman gave a very interesting
“I think that the public could be forgiven for finding the current
situation very complex. We have the Committee on Standards in Public
Life, which is independent; the Standards and Privileges Committee,
which is a Committee of this House but is supported by an independent
commissioner; the National Audit Office reporting to the Public Accounts
Committee, which is a Committee of this House; the Public Administration
Committee; and, the Register of Members' interests. Every time there has
been a problem, we have bolted on a new bit of machinery.
We now have a chronic hybridity with some issues being dealt with by
this House and some by independent elements.
The public are unable to see the clear picture they need.”
She missed out the Electoral Commission; however, it was enough.
She is absolutely right, accountability in the House of Commons is a dog’s
dinner, and who made it that way?
Accountability and transparency are worthwhile objectives, but not when
the measures put in place in order to attain them make the situation
I am personally not happy with the Standards and Privileges Committee,
and think it should be abolished. Before anyone jumps down my throat, I
will explain why.
The committee consists of 5 Labour MPs, 3 Conservative, 1 Lib Dem and
1 Plaid Cymru.
I am quite sure that when the Conservative party takes power, it will
consist of 5 Conservative, 3 Labour and so on.
It is overseen by an independent commissioner, who I assume is appointed
by the government of the day. If this is the case, can he or she be
truly independent? What do you put first: independence or your job?
MPs are reported to the Standards and Privileges Committee for many
things, some incredibly and un-deniably trivial. I have been too. Many
complaints are politically motivated.
Can any committee composed of conflicting tribal opposition members be
Can any select committee which is weighted with members from the
government of the day behave in a seriously objective non-partisan way?
Or will the government use the government appointed chairman to endorse
and back up a government Bill or position?
You do occasionally hear of a principled chairman speaking out; however,
that in itself possibly maintains the facade.
There are very few procedures and protocols in the House of Commons
which have anything to do with what really matters.
A distinguished and learnerd clerk describes Parliament as an
organism. One that is un-predictable and difficult. Nothing is
guaranteed. That's because when it comes to the nitty gritty of
legislation much of the business is done via 'horse-trading’, bartering
and secret discussions.
Transparency? Accountability? Don't make me laugh. We are no nearer to
that position than we were hundreds of years ago. It’s not just in
members’ expenses, where the problems lie. It runs throughout the entire
fabric of Parliament and how it operates.
On Monday, I will give you a good example.
Government has many mechanisms at its fingertips, to guarantee it pushes
through its legislative programme in full, without too many hitches or inconvenience. Each government of whatever make up will use it’s power to re-enforce that advantage.
Parliament operates within a complex matrix, an un-decipherable well protected code. I, after almost three years as an MP, am only just beginning to scratch the surface.