A broken Parliament

For all who love the idea of Parliamentary democracy, this has been the worst week of our lives.

Over the last decade it has been bad enough to see too many powers given away to Brussels in three major Treaties we did not want.

It has been compounded by giving away too many powers and duties to unelected quangos and external bodies.

It has been made worse by the rigorous timetabling of business, preventing Parliament from having its proper say on important issues, and taking away the time weapon from Opposition.

Now the last vestiges of dignity have been stripped away by an expenses system that was too generous and by the way some MPs have used it.

Where does it go from here?

The need for urgent reform has become clear to the Leaders of the three main parties. The Prime Minister, who should have the votes to drive through reform, has tried and failed to initiate urgent reform that will work. The Leader of the Opposition has come up with a reform plan. He is now imposing those parts of it which he can introduce unilaterally on his own party in the hope that other parties will do something similar.

The Cameron plan has several aspects. They are all designed to cut the costs of MPs, and to bring their claims more into line with public expectations.

In future no Conservative MP will be able to claim the big range of items to furnish and maintain a second home which have been common and legal but not wise under the old scheme. If an MP wants and can afford a swimming pool, sauna or massage chair they should pay for it out of their taxed income.

All claims made by Conservatives will be published on line as they make them, allowing press and public to see what is being claimed.

The Conservatives will abolish the £10,000 a year communications allowance introduced by the present government, saving more than 5% of total expenses.

The Conservatives will reduce the number of MPs by 10%.

These measures would produce a substantial saving for taxpayers and would remove the most unacceptable features of the current regime. Overall they should cut costs by around a fifth.

The problem is how we can do enough as a whole House of Commons. Presumably the governemnt still wants to hear from Chris Kelly, commissioned to review the whole system and come up with proposals. That will mean delay until near the year end. I guess the Labour party will come to the view that the range of items that can be claimed under the second homes scheme has to be cut. Meanwhile the public is far ahead, with many wanting the public provision of accommodation for MPs to replace the pay it and charge it system that currently operates.

This Parliament is drifting dangerously, and looks incapable of making the important decisons that need to be made. A General Election would be good, but is very unlikely. A new Speaker is urgently sought by many, but that too looks unlikely unless enough Labour MPs decide they need to do that.

This week-end the Prime Minister, as the Leader of the large majority party, needs to think again and consult widely. We need Labour votes for reform. If he does not agree with the Cameron plan, he needs to offer us one which we and most of his MPs agree with or can recognise as an improvement.

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52 Comments

  1. Julian Gall
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    MPs should be subject to the same tax laws as anyone else working under the same conditions. What possible justification can there be for legislators to be exempt from the laws they enact for everyone else? In particular, HM Revenue and Customs should determine whether MPs’ expenses are incurred “wholly, necessarily and exclusively” in the performance of their duties, just as they do for the rest of us. Any exemptions to the normal tax reporting of expenses should be granted in the same way as for other employers. Any infringements should be prosecuted as for other taxpayers.

    I have just completed by tax return for last year. There was a question asking whether I was an MP. This is presumably to trigger more lenient treatment of expenses. Apart from the inefficiency and cost of rules that apply only to 650 people, why should you lot get special treatment? You’ve certainly not shown over the last few weeks that you deserve it.

    It may surprise you to know but we would all like to claim all sorts of expenses from our employers and have them not be taxed. If anyone has a second home, they would love to be able to sell it without paying capital gains tax. However, we can’t do these things because of the laws that have been put in place by MPs. MPs should directly feel the consequences of the laws they enact and not be exempt.

    Reply: MPs are not exempt from the tax laws, and have to submit extra pages with details of their expenses. We are not taxed on any expense like staff salaries that are part of the costs of running our office. Nonetheless these have to be declared. If MPs have claimed expenses that are not wholly and necessarily incurred for doing their job then they are likely to be subject to investigation as you would expect.

  2. A. Sedgwick
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The expenses debacle is really a side show to the diminishing authority of Parliament and the collective demoralisation of MPs. Arguably one of the few useful decisions made by Blair & Co. is devolution which appears to have given more democracy to the Celts. The fallout is Westmister has not been adjusted and we have the surreal political situation where a vastly over represented Scotland is running England with underemployed Scottish constituency MPs – ten would be ample instead of the current 56. Further if we were not encumbered with the labyrinthine VAT these devolved parliaments could be allowed to raise revenue through their own sales tax as with U.S.states. This would increase accountability and efficiency through competition. Look at the current cross border trade in Ireland caused by the high Euro value.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      Scotland is not now over-represented at Westminster. Wales is still over-represented, ie the average number of electors per MP is deliberately set lower for Wales than for England, but that is no longer true for Scotland.

      We now have “devolved” matters, and “reserved” matters, and there is absolutely no reason why a British citizen resident in Scotland should have less of a say over those matters which are still “reserved” to Westminster than a British citizen resident in England.

      What is missing is the power of British citizens resident in England to control those matters which have been “devolved” to Scotland, and which should be similarly “devolved” to England.

      In any case I think the problems caused by the delegation of powers from London to Edinburgh are really a side issue, compared to the delegation of powers from London to Brussels.

      That’s what has done more than anything else to diminish the authority of the UK Parliament.

      Above all, it’s the “collective submission” of MPs to the EU which has led to their “collective demoralisation”.

      The great majority of MPs are now at best ambivalent about the supremacy of their own Parliament, our national Parliament; and having lost their pride in their institution and in themselves, they’ve descended to money-grubbing.

      We need MPs who will get up off their knees, and tell the EU very clearly that it is not their master, that being the British people who elected them.

      But we’re not going to get such MPs through any of the three main parties, except by accident.

      • A. Sedgwick
        Posted May 16, 2009 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

        Please tell me what a non UK Minister Scottish MP does given MSPs are responsible for health, education, justice, local government, planning(no nukes)transport and no doubt more. Best wishes.

        • Denis Cooper
          Posted May 17, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

          Fair point.

          Of course as far as the Labour MPs elected in Scotland are concerned, Blair and Brown were adamant that they must always be available to ensure a government majority on England-only laws; none of them had the common decency to see that this was wrong and say that they wouldn’t do it; and nor did the Labour MPs elected in England say that it was wrong and they wouldn’t accept it.

          The scope of the “reserved” matters is extensive, detailed in Schedule 5 to the Scotland Act 1998 here:

          http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts1998/ukpga_19980046_en_14

          and as it includes

          “International relations, including relations with territories outside the United Kingdom, the European Communities (and their institutions) and other international organisations, regulation of international trade … ”

          that means that not only are most of the new laws in Scotland determined in Brussels, as for the rest of the UK, but it is the UK government which negotiates (and gets outvoted) rather than the Scottish executive or government.

          Still, it would be interesting to know how much time at the UK Parliament is devoted to matters which affect only England, or only England and Wales.

          Maybe English matters could usually be dealt with on a single day at either end of the week, when the MPs elected in Scotland need not attend.

          Incidentally the reduction in their number was brought about through Section 86 of that Act, which removed the rule that Scotland should have at least 71 seats, and laid down that the “electoral quota” used in England should also be used in Scotland.

  3. None
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    How do you reduce the number of MP’s without affecting representation; you can’t. Representation is bad enough as it is.

    The problem is not the cost, it’s the cynical abuse of the system by the power hungry parasitic megalomaniacs who choose a career in politics.

    I think we may get a better parliamentary system if there were some kind of “inhabitant” regulation concerning representation. ie you could only represent an area if you had lived in that area (as an adult) for say 15 years – not necessarily continuous. That would ensure fewer of the “career politicians” with more life experience, better representation, and with better representation you’d get less fleecing of the system.

    Reply: I can assure you there are too many MPs. I was quite capable of representing many more people before the boundary changes.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      I wonder if that would still be the case if more of your 69,000 constituents took an active interest in politics, and in how you were representing them in Parliament … for a start – as elsewhere, I hasten to add – a third of them didn’t even take the trouble to vote at the last general election. And, of course, I wonder how it would pan out if Parliament reverted to doing its job properly by determining 100% of our laws, instead of allowing 80% of them to be determined by the EU. Wouldn’t MPs then find that they were a lot busier?

    • Freddy
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

      “Reply: I can assure you there are too many MPs.”

      That’s interesting – do you have any view on what would be an appropriate number of MPs ?

      reply: I would reduce it by 10% at the next boundary change and see how that works out. The USA has 430 Congress members for a much larger country.

      • Denis Cooper
        Posted May 17, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

        I wouldn’t hold up the USA as a prime example of how to run an effective national democracy, and nor indeed would many of its more thoughtful and informed citizens.

      • David B
        Posted May 17, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        France may be a better comparison. She has 61 million people and 577 National Assembly Members. USA is a poor example as the Congress is a Federal Legislature. Although the UK might be better governed as a federation too. We could maybe have 100 MP’s then. Perhaps the 100 could be all who remained once the bad apples were thrown out?

  4. Brigham
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    What I can’t understand is how the PM, who seems to me, to be the most inept politician to get into Parliament, is still sitting there pretending he still has any authority over his government. He has presided over the most imprudent, and I use that word advisedly, chancellorship in history, and the most futile PMship ever. He is now attempting to claim Cameron’s initiative as his own. Parliament is now finished. Nothing can really happen until we have a general election. In my opinion, it is possible that Brown has almost presided over the demise of the Labour party

  5. Paul
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:44 am | Permalink

    John,

    I agree with everything you say, but would make the following two points. Somewhat in agreement with Julian Gall’s comment, why on earth should it take Chris Kelly 5-6 months to come up with an expenses scheme that every small, medium and large business in the land has. I’m sorry if you want parliament taken seriously you have to join the 21st century. I warn you now if this takes longer than two weeks then the public will assume some kind of dirty trick, workaround scheme has been introduced.

    If they can’t manage that I’ll do it for you. Salary £100,000 +office, staff allowance as now. Travel via mileage, rail, plane, coach reinbursed with receipt, overnight allowance subject to maximum £200 per night with receipt. Simples.

    One of the other things about the fracturing of Parliamentary democracy that profoundly affects me, lots of people that I speak to ( and I do speak to lots of people all over the country in the course of my work) and judging by the comments sections lots on the blogosphere, that so far has been ignored is that the old 2 and a half party system is 19th Century.

    I am forced to choose a party appointed apparatchik as my representative MP when what I’m actually voting for is a Prime Minister picked ( or not in the present case ) by her or his party.

    This is a nonsense. Allied to the fact that none of the present parties represent my views on the major issues ( of course there will be disputes on lots of minor things) I am left with no one credible to vote for. That is why Labour run the country with just the mandate of 24% of the people elligable to vote.

    That is the biggest disgrace.

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:04 pm | Permalink

      Paul
      Agree with your last 3 paragraphs.

      I to agree that the Old Party System is broken, I am fortunate in that John is my MP and many of his beliefs run similar to my own.
      I feel he represents my views better than any other candidate that has ever stood against him, and he is also a very, very good constituancy MP. Often getting involved in Local affairs where he is not afraid of putting his head above the parapet, causing on occassion local Councillors (also Tories) to rethink policy.
      BUT.
      Too many MP’s seem to be in a position where they just tow the Party Line, often against their own thoughts, but without any consience at all, because they are bullied by the Whips.
      This means that in effect you may as well have cardboard cut outs lined up in the voting chambers. If the MP is not allowed the courage of his own convictions and thoughts.
      Such action could be seen as a betrayal of the Constituants who that MP represents if they are voting against their personal beliefs, just to satisfy the Party machine.

      John I agree fully with your comments that this Labour Party have ridden rough shod over unwritten Parliamentary tradition in order to push through legislation without full debate.

      Is it time now that we perhaps have a new written constitution that does not allow such action to be taken in the future.
      Perhaps it really is time to look at many other Countries to see what we can learn from the way they run their systems.

      With regard to the EU, well I think many of us would simply say we have had enough, time to call it a day and remove ourselves from this Socialist dream land.
      It will sooner or later end in tears and bankruptcy.
      Let us sort ourselves out, we managed before, we will manage again.

      • Citizen Responsible
        Posted May 16, 2009 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

        In my school days we were taught that we were born into a free country. Our freedom was not granted by our government, we were born free. There was no written constitution because one was not needed.

        However we now have a government that has trampled Parliamentary traditions underfoot and seems determined to press ahead with ID cards, a nationwide DNA database etc. Much as it pains me to say it, I think the time has come for a written constitution to reign in the behavior of those who have contempt for our traditions, democracy and freedoms.

        • Tony
          Posted May 16, 2009 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

          I don’t believe we need a constitution but am in total agreement with your first statement.
          We are born free into a free land because we are a common law jurisdiction, that is our birthright. Under the common law we are all equal. Our problem is that we have forgotten who we are and the power we hold as a people.
          The constabulary, police with the consent of the people, we are administered to by the same. The police should be made to to investigate, no excuses. Then those that have a case to answer can be judged by the people themselves in a properly convened court de jure. Criminals go to prison, regardless of their status in their society.

      • mikestallard
        Posted May 16, 2009 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

        “I am forced to choose a party appointed apparatchik as my representative MP when what I’m actually voting for is a Prime Minister picked ( or not in the present case ) by her or his party.”
        Absolutely. there really is no choice for most people. In Cambridgeshire, we had the privilege of just turning up to vote for six candidates (anyone welcome) and I think myself that we chose very well in our Conservative candidate. This is, however, unusual.
        When he gets elected (I hope), he will be under enormous pressure, though, to conform – otherwise he will never make the front bench were all the power lies.
        Lousy Prime Ministers, too, choose lousy yes men and, I deeply regret, groupie women to rubber stamp their whims from the bunker.

    • ManicBeancounter
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 2:06 pm | Permalink

      Paul,

      Your simple solution is not so simple. A flat £100,000 salary might be viewed as a 50% pay rise for MPs, when many people are wanting to punish every. Furthermore, the cost of MPs would rise, as they move from second homes into hotels, whist the limit would encourage many to leave the House early to travel to their only home – the exact opposite of what John Redwood (and many others) would like.

      Any scheme is far more complex for MPs than for a business, as you have to satisfy the general public, the main political parties and actually get costs down. Also businesses can copy from other successful schemes. Gordon Brown tried to move over to an alternative model but quickly retracted it, as the deficiencies were pointed out. Most importantly, no matter how good a scheme on paper, it must be seen to be fair and a break from the current system. In the current climate it is nigh impossible. It is better wait for things to simmer down, with the summer recess for discussion.

      • Paul
        Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:50 pm | Permalink

        I do realise I was being a little bit on the generous side at £100 k per annum. I also omited that I agree with John about reducing the number of MPs. Business expenses have rules and so should the house. My business allows £150 per diem ( with receipts) but the accounts people ( fees office) actually checks why it was needed. As I understand it the house only sits 3 days per week and part of the year so you would NOT be claiming outside of that. The savings in mortgage interest relief, council tax, furnishings, food (£5000 per year on its own)communication allowance (£10000) etc would more than offset this. Whilst I appreciate that the public anger is not in the mood to tolerate any of this right now, i think commonsense would prevail eventually. The other up and coming source of potential anger is MPs second jobs ( actually Directorships and consultancies in reality) and whilst I am of the school that I would like my politicos to have real world experience and engagement I think this will be stopped or curtailed too.

  6. Jaiperoo
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    John,

    I hope that you will urge David Cameron to continue leading on this issue all the way to the European Parliament and MEPs expenses. I would have thought it is a politically opportune moment to go after the Brussels gravy train.

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 5:00 pm | Permalink

      I think the Brussels gravy train has been part of the problem. I think some UK MP’s have looked on enviously at the lavish expenses and pay of MEPs, especially when failed politicians from member countries are packed off to the European Parliament. Talking of which, it was Neil Kinnock who suspended the EU Commission’s top accountant Marta Andreason, after she criticized EU accounting procedures and refused to sign off the budget. She was eventually sacked. That’s how those who challenge the EU system are treated.

  7. Jingouk
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    I ask you again, Mr Redwood. When will you publish your expenses on-line?

    In the present circumstances if you wish to be offer advice as to where we all go from here, we, the people, need to know that your hands are clean.

    The Fees office will publish them on line. I voted for them to do so a long time ago, when only 25 of us so voted.

  8. Demetrius
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    It is not just a broken Parliament, it is a broken Government. The train hit the buffers when the banks went bust. This business of the expenses is just one carriage at the end of the train piling up on top of the others. It is the thing we see. What we do not see is all the casualties underneath. The scandal is bad enough, what is infinitely worse is the craven whinging of those involved, when around me I see a series of human and family tragedies unfolding as a result of the breakdown in government.

  9. Azaelea
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I do not believe that it is so much a “Broken Parliament” as scurrilous MPs who have manipulated a system for their own greed. It simply does not curry favour to sing as one chorus, “It’s the system that’s wrong; the advisers told me; I was seriously busy and under stress at the time; a serious oversight; I did nothing wrong as I acted within the rules”.

    Politicians have been very well aware that their claims were spurious at best and fraudulent respectively. Why else did the HOC spend £100000 of Tax Payers money in its legal bid against the Times newspaper to prevent the publication of MPs expenses? At one point, 46 MPs – including government ministers -voted to allow themselves to keep their travelling expenses secret.

    When the High Court ruled that it was in the public interest for these accounts to be published …enter Ms. Harman, the heroine of the House, with a new Law overturning the High Court ruling.

    British Politicians have engendered a culture of arrogance towards us, the British people; the Tax Payer, The Electorate and yes The Employer.

    Personally, and I was advocating this on blogs before David Cameron, I would humbly suggest that we replace the current system and number of MPs by embarking on a fewer numbers and a more accountable and open system and not by spending more of our Tax money by establishing quangos:

    1. Replace electing MPs for each and every area by selecting MPs for regions e.g. Havering, Hackney, Waltham Forest, City of Manchester etc.

    2. Employ more staff to successfully manage this- from the British people not from family or “Old boy Network”.

    I suggest that this would ensure a surge in the electoral turnout figures.

    3. Abolish expenses for homes and enter in to corporate deals with Westminster hotels for MPs to stay in overnight- sharing rooms with colleagues not family or hangers on. Alternatively, as with Foreign Diplomats, purchase homes for politicians to abide in; these would then belong to the nation and not individuals.

    This in turn, would enthuse the employer, us the Tax Payers and electorate and set this country on embarking on a new future for the Greater Good of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

  10. Donna W
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Cameron has (mostly) taken appropriate action – although I fail to see why MacKay and Kirkbride still have the Tory whip.
    In his broadcast yesterday he certainly looked like the de facto Prime Minister.

    The proposals outlined above are all necessary and appropriate. I take issue with two things:

    1) The Lisbon ConTreaty. It is time to make it absolutely clear that unless a Referendum is held and a ‘yes’ is the result, then the Treaty will be null and void.

    2) A 10% reduction in MPs, whilst welcome, is not enough. We don’t need over 500 MPs; and we certainly don’t need more than 3 0r 400 Lords.

    Constituency boundaries should be redrawn – doing away with the gerry-mandered bias towards Labour – with the intention that each Constituency has approx 150,000 voters.

    This would have the added benefit o creating many more income-balanced constituencies, and therefore more swing constituencies, which would do our system of first past the post Parliamentary Democracy a huge favour.

    A benefit of a much larger reduction in the number of MPs and Lords, could then be higher salaries and (hopefully) a better quality of candidate.

    • SJB
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      Donna: “It is time to make it absolutely clear that unless a Referendum is held and a ‘yes’ is the result, then the Treaty [of Lisbon] will be null and void.”

      The Treaty will probably be in force by the time a General Election is called in 2010. The UK deposited the instrument of ratification last July so it seems unlikely that one of Cameron’s first acts as PM would be to announce that HMG was not going to honour its treaty obligations.

      It will be interesting to see how the Conservative Party intend to approach the post-Lisbon political landscape.

  11. Brian E.
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    People would be even more shocked if the expenses of MEPs and the Euro Commissioners were revealed; unfortunately the chance of this ever happening seems infinitesimal. And as the main parties would all suffer very badly if this ever happened, it seems unlikely that we will ever know what is happening as there is no incentive anywhere to change their gravy train.

  12. Acorn
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:30 am | Permalink

    So Gordo wants an independent audit of MPs’ expenses back to 2004. So what happened before then that he doesn’t want us to know about?

    (Did any ofed) these “expenses” find its way back to party and trade union coffers(words left out)? A sort of off balance sheet version of the “trade union modernisation fund”, that was tacked on to a Labour Bill some time back.

    I bet you the corruption goes much deeper than what we have seen so far.

    http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/05/ken-livingstone-labour-whips-officially.html#links

  13. upbeatskeptic
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Wouldn’t any monies saved for the taxpayer as a result of the upcoming frugality of MPs simply be gobbled up by all these indpendent bodies and auditors and commissions and whatnot? I mean, it seems to me that the issue is not really about the best use of taxpayers’ money at all, but about the perceived venality of MPs, a narrative which MPs themselves are trying their very hardest to support.

    I wonder, will there be an MP politically gung-ho enough to maintain that a raise in basic salary, and the complete abolition of the expenses system, is quite simply better value for the taxpayer than the creation of endless external agencies designed to regulate the nitty-gritties of Parliamentary life from now on?

    Whilst I suspect this won’t happen, I also hope that we don’t thereby sleepwalk into another messy and costly raft of bureaucratic regulation. Though, admittedly, that Members of Parliament would finally be on the end of the kind of mind-numbing bureaucracy they impose on the rest of us does fill me with not a little satisfaction.

  14. Richard
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    The Conservatives should be much more vocal on the wholly undemocratic disparity in the number of electors per constituency. There are Conservative MPs with 100,000 electors & Labour ones with little over 30,000. Why should one person’s vote count for 3x another’s? This is why Labour has such a majority despite only winning the last election 36%-33%. Since we hear no complaints from the large constituencies that they are not well enough served, let all MPs have more constituents, and let all consituencies be as far as possible the same size. A cheaper and more democratic system.

  15. Denis Cooper
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    “The Conservatives will reduce the number of MPs by 10%.”

    A broken Parliament is not repaired by making it a smaller broken Parliament; and nor will it even be a cheaper Parliament, when the remaining 90% share out the taxpayers’ money previously taken by the 10% – as they inevitably will.

    Basically this is an attack on the backbenchers by the frontbenchers, to increase the already excessive degree of control which can be exerted by the party leadership; therefore it is yet another attack by the Conservative party leadership on the democratic rights of the people.

  16. Greychatter
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:09 pm | Permalink

    John:
    This last few weeks have been the BEST Few Weeks in British Politics. For those fewer of us pure mortals trying to keep business running in Britain, struggling against Red Tape, Empty Property rates, all the rubbish heaped on them by Politicians – who mostly appear to be more interested in their own little Westminster World to understand what is going on in the real world.

    Maybe Westminster will take a look outside and start to take an interest in dragging this wonderful country back from the brink.

    Draw a line under expenses fiacso and get rid of this disastrous Labour government.

  17. APL
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    JR: “A broken Parliament.”

    Good post in the Telegraph

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/mps-expenses/5331589/MPs-expenses-The-House-of-Commons-is-ours-not-theirs.-Dont-ruin-it-reclaim-it.html

    Parliament is the people in it.

    The expenses scandal is the latest but least shameful aspect.

    Yes, our so called democratic representatives have elevated themselves to the status of feudal lords.

    But that is not the worst. The worst is they are impostors, they make a pretense to govern, but they have actually delegated that function to Brussels.

    Meanwhile the self appointed feudal lords demand more tithes and taxes, because they are all necessary to make a ‘reasonable living’ off the fat of the land.

    • mikestallard
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

      Yes indeed – Charles Moore at his very best. Really constructive.

  18. arisaig
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    John,

    Two matters on which I have seen little comment:-

    1) Why should it cost more (tax free) to pay food bills for one MP for a week than the basic state pension on which my mother would be expected to live and pay all bills?

    2)Ghastly to see today that Sir Gerald Kaufman was submitting wholly unvouched and unsupported claims for £245 “odd jobs” month in month out, just under the £250 limit for which receipts were required, this is surely beyond belief, and no doubt will be a widespread practice.

    Very sad.

  19. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    We do have a broken Parliament. The dangers to our country are extreme. We may see a complete breakdown of the democratic system leading to anarchy. This cannot be allowed to happen. The major issue is that we cannot allow this Parliament to drift on when the country faces such immense problems. This means an election cannot be postponed for another year. One must be held within the next three months. All MPs should be automatically de-selected and offer themselves for selection and adoption as candidates.

  20. None
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the link APL, the ensuing discussion contains links to other articles etc, eventually I got to this one:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2009/may/15/mps-expenses-heather-brooke-foi

    Fascinating. Honestly, reading that you find out how hard the government fought to stop this going through. It’s a complete disgrace. Every other party should be able to pounce on this – every MP who voted to exclude themselves from the freedom of information act (and thereby cover up this entire episode) should be doomed at the next election; who on earth would vote for someone who would have preferred this all to be kept under the covers ?

    • APL
      Posted May 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

      None: “Every other party should be able to pounce on this – every MP who voted to exclude themselves from the freedom of information act (and thereby cover up this entire episode) should be doomed at the next election ..”

      Yes. But I don’t want the ‘Party’ be it Conservative or Labour, to gain from this, I want the local party associations to take back the authority they once had. Hopefully as a right leaning person, the Labour party will only have one or two functioning constituencies left after this.

      Heather has a blog of her own, by the way.

      http://www.yrtk.org/

  21. RPC
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    A bit of honesty would go a long way to re-estabishing the reputation of Parliament. We have become so accustomed to the lies told by Labour – crime is falling, education is improving etc etc – all against the evidence of our own experience – that we have all but given up on our MPs (of all political parties) acting in any other way than as party political liars.

    How about less whipping and more free voting according to conscience? Sure, some sacred cow party policies may be challenged – always good to allow a rethink, and legislation will be slowed – which can only be a good thing, but the electors might be persuaded that they have sent to Parliament a representative and not a party puppet, thus restoring some faith in individual MPs.

    Of course, it goes without saying that the treacherous surrender of power to Europe must be reversed if ever Parliament is to regain any authority.

  22. Robert
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    There is no way it needs to take a year to review the expenses system. Try this alternative:-

    1. Reduce the number of MP’s to 500

    2. Give each MP GBP 300,000. Out of that they fund their own salary, their own pensions, their own offices, their own staff, their own accomodation – everything.

    3. Pay them nothing else whatsoever of any description out of the public purse.

    4. They can allocate the 300,000 exactly as they please but each MP is to publish a set of externally audited accounts at the end of the year to a prescribed format.

    5. Although this appears generous I have estimated that it would reduce costs even before the reduction in numbers of MP’s.

    6. Ministers to be given extra allowance similar to the current additional salary and that too to be covered by rules 2,3,and 4 above.

    And yes I know, pigs might fly but it would work.

    Reply: far too generous – that would put the costs up.

  23. oldrightie
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    A disease of greed and corruption imported from Brussels?

  24. Simon
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    The rules on expenses are perfectly adequate. It is the people abusing them that are the problem. None of the party leaders now has the moral authority to push through reforms. It was them that condoned what was going on. How can they suddenly say “It’s OK, I’ve fixed it” with any credibility?

    I think the only solution is an immediate general election, then if people consider Brown, Cameron etc worthy of re-electing they would have some authority again.

    How can they carry on? Every time someone appears on Newsnight etc all they’re going to hear is things like “How can you propose to do this after the way you have behaved?” and rightly so. I see no way forward without an election. What will happen is the contempt for politicians will grow, then the politicians will start getting resentful and things will spiral downwards from there.

  25. brian kelly
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    There are still many honest politicians, though much diminished in number, with conviction and integrity who are sadly tainted by the venality and poverty of mind of the others. However, why are parliament and MP’s so trivialised? At least one reason is our increasingly closer political integration in the EU. We no longer are fully in control of our present and certainly not our future. There are few ‘great’ issues of State left to us to make decisions on – most are now given over to Brussels – and as we go into the future there will be fewer and will result in the further loss of authority and respect. I maintain, even for this reason alone, we must take back our complete sovereignty from Europe and once more parliament will, of necessity, regain, eventually, the authority, respect and importance it once had. But the essential first steps are transparent rules we, the public, can see are just, and the punishment of our present lot of transgressors. If condign punishment is not visited on them before the next election then we must turn them out at that election. We must not let this matter drop however hard they may try to make it disappear.

  26. mikestallard
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    It really was not like this under John Major, despite all the totally hypocritical efforts of the Labour spin machine in its infancy.
    We, the voters feel really cheated. After 1997, we gave the Labour Party three huge mandates to reform the “corrupt” country.
    They did nothing.
    Then came the crunch.
    Now we learn that they are in it for their own benefit and sod the rest of us.
    And real Labour people are angry too because they can see the Tory Toffs revealed as they really are. (The moat, the tennis court)
    We, the voters of all stripes, feel cheated and we have been made to look really daft. That accounts for the anger we feel.
    The good news is that it looks as if the corrupt parliament can now start to sort itself out. And it had better be quick about it too.
    Or?

  27. Alan Wheatley
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    As to the number of MPs, if you start with the premiss that MPs represent their constituents, then my analysis is as follows.

    All MPs should represent approximately the same number of constituents, say plus/minus 10%. This number should be adjusted for practical factors on a constituency basis.

    Constituencies with low population densities should have fewer constituents because of the greater difficult for the MP to cover all the ground and the greater difficulty for constituents to meet their MP. Scottish Highlands and islands are an example.

    Constituencies with high population densities should have more constituents for the reciprocal reason.

    Constituencies in Scotland and Wales should have more constituents because their MP is representing them on fewer matters.

    There may be an argument that says the further from London the small the constituency because of the increasing burden of travel.

    Clearly some of these factors work in opposite directions for a particular constituency, but this is simply a case of summing the factors to get the number relative to the norm for a particular constituency. The norm is the number of electors (or population?) divided by the number of MPs.

    As to the total number, clearly there is no point in having any more than necessary. But I would be happy to err on the side of too many rather than too few IF, repeat IF, that aids good governance.

    I am relaxed about MPs having other jobs: if constituents think they are not representing them properly they can vote for someone else. I think MPs are a special case in one respect. I can not think of another employment where the holder has, on occasion not of their choosing, to give up their job to someone else no matter how well they have been doing it. If being an MP is the be all and end all life then it is easy to understand how some will be desperate to hold on to their seat no matter what, possibly to the point of folly.

    • Denis Cooper
      Posted May 17, 2009 at 10:17 am | Permalink

      I would agree with your argument about giving some weight to the density of population in a constituency; but I would never agree that British citizen resident in Scotland or Wales should have any less say than a British citizen resident in England, when it comes to all the many important matters which are still “reserved” to the British Parliament.

      The Boundary Commissions aim to equalise the number of voters in the constituencies, according to the “electoral quota”, the quota which is used in England now also being used in Scotland, but not yet in Wales.

      However they also aim to create geographical constituencies which reflect local connections, the sense of local community, and that frequently conflicts with the aim of having equal numbers of electors in each constituency.

      For example, what should be done about the Isle of Wight, which had a registered electorate of 109,046 for the 2005 general election? Split it, and have two small constituencies, like Yardley and Hodge Hill in Birmingham, 50,975 and 53,903 respectively? But do the islanders actually want their island split into two constituencies, let alone the possible alternative of having a chunk of the island split off and attached to one of the mainland constituencies?

      Then, at the other end of the scale, what should be done about the constituency previously known as the Western Isles, 21,576, or about Orkney and Shetlands, 33,048? I doubt that the Shetlanders even particularly want to be lumped in with the people of Orkney, let alone with a mainland constituency.

      When it was proposed that a village outside Reading should be transferred to the Wokingham constituency, there were protests along the lines of “We’ve lived here thirty years, and never once have we had occasion to go to Wokingham; as far as we’re concerned our connections are all with Reading”.

      There’s also the problem that the Boundary Commissions are always playing catch-up with respect to population movements, using data from the previous census to try to equalise constituencies for the general election after next, or maybe even the one after that.

      I know that in recent years some people in the Tory party have become very exercised about the many inevitable anomalies with constituency sizes, but that’s only because on balance they tend to work against Tory party interests.

      If the anomalies worked in favour of the Tory party, would they still be saying that there was a major problem of unfairness? I don’t think so.

      People putting their party before their country is the bane of our system, even to the point where some Tories loudly advocate breaking up the United Kingdom, simply because their party has managed to make itself so unpopular in Scotland that most Scots will no longer vote for it.

      I find it pretty disgusting when I read such comments; personally I wouldn’t care very much if the Tory party, or any other political party, broke up and disappeared – in fact I’d welcome the simultaneous disappearance of all three of the present main parties – but I do care a great deal about maintaining the unity of the country.

      • Alan Wheatley
        Posted May 19, 2009 at 8:01 pm | Permalink

        I do not see British citizens resident in Scotland and Wales having less of a say. MPs represent their constituents, their votes in Parliament are not weighted by their number. It could be argued that these living in Scotland and Wales are better represented than those living in England.

  28. John Fannon
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

    We have heard something about how the Tories are going to reform the Commons should they get into power, but what about the Lords?

    Remember that Blair and his cronies broke the Lords in their earlier reforms and now it is more like a House of Cronies.

    One of the big laughs on the web is the website http://www.theyworkforyou.com – pure gold plated, copper bottomed spin if ever I saw it! They work for themselves is a more accurate description.

    There is a need for an Upper house to have some check and balance on an overweening House of Commons. Personally I would favour a wholly elected chamber with one third coming for reelection every 2 years to reflect more accurately changing public opinion. If there are to be appointees there should be a limited number with new entrants being determined only on the death or retirement of the old – like the US Supreme court.

  29. Paul Geddes
    Posted May 16, 2009 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

    You state Mps will not “claim the big range of items to furnish and maintain a second home which have been common and legal but not wise under the old scheme”

    “Common but legal”!? On what basis to you make this assertion? The very strict test, taken from tax legislation, of “wholly, exclusively and necessarily” rules out a very great deal of the publicly reported claims that have been paid out. And if that were ever not sufficient to make them “illegal”, being in contravention of the rules, many claims would be out-with the rules through the over-arching requirement to avoid luxury and operate honourably.

    Some or all MPs may welcome the outrageous exculpatory words of those of their colleagues at present under scrutiny to the effect that their false claims enjoy a veneer of validity by virtue of the Fees Office arranging settlement. They should understand that the public see the Fees Office not as exercising check and control, or any guardianship function, but rather in the role of accomplice to embezzlement.

    • Jingouk
      Posted May 17, 2009 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      Yes, exactly!

  30. Alan Wheatley
    Posted May 17, 2009 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    As to the second homes allowance, it seems to me parliamentarians have got themselves in a mess because they do not understand the difference between an allowance and an expense. They have decided, rightly, that for those members with a constituency sufficiently far away a base is needed in London: a second home. They have decided upon an allowance: it should be paid as a lump sump but instead have decided to pay it piecemeal for specific items of expenditure up to an allowance limit. Naturally, everyone is going to have a different view as to what is a reasonable expenditure in such circumstances.

    When I worked in industry, if you worked away from your normal place of work for a few days you claimed expenses. If you worked away for a long period you moved to “site based” and were entitled to an allowance to cover your costs involved. It was up to you how you spent it.

    Incidentally the idea of close scrutiny of petty amounts is stupid as any potential cost savings are dwarfed by administrative cost increases. Fraud is a different matter.

    If we want MPs to deal with themselves as the rest of us have to live then what they receive should be based on the above.

    However, they are in a slightly different situation. I see the normal place of work as the constituency, and so Westminster is away from from the normal place of work. Travel costs to get there and back are legitimate. Accommodation is not quite so obvious: accommodation is needed there over a long period but not all the time.

    One approach would be to claim expenses on a per-night basis. One’s club may be OK for a few, but to live in hotels on this basis over a long period seems to me a pretty onerous existence. An allowance could be paid on the basis of full-time occupancy, even though occupancy would not be full time, e.g. back in constituency at weekends.

    My feeling is that MPs are entitled to a reasonable lifestyle, and that those who need a second home should be paid an allowance based on costs in the Westminster area and it should be paid over the full period they are an MP. How the MP chooses to use that allowance should be entirely up to them.

    Less you think I am overly generous, bear in mind that should an MP choose to use their allowance to help buy a property near Westminster they always run the risk of loosing their seat in a snap general election the day after they signed the contract. Any capital gain or loss on a second home is no different to the rest of us.

    Finally, we all resent the government sticking their noses in to the details of how we lead our lives, and their generally prescriptive approach, and in like vein there is no benefit in MPs being told exactly what they can and can not do. Give them what is reasonable and let them decide how to spend it. We do not want an enormous discourse on trivia when there are far more weighty matters to deal with.

  31. Lucy Sharp
    Posted May 17, 2009 at 9:49 pm | Permalink

    Alan Wheatley’s suggestion is sensible. I doubt whether it will be any cheaper – a rented furnished flat within walking distance of Westminster costs about £2,000 a month – but at least everyone would know where they stand. It is treating the constituency residence as the secondary home that seems questionable to me.

    And I have some sympathy with the staff of the Fees Office. They may have seemed spineless, but the notes some MPs have sent to them have been disgraceful in themselves, with veiled threats, bullying and flat refusal to address the points raised being all too common.

  32. adam
    Posted May 18, 2009 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    I feel this system reform issue is a political red herring designed to give Gordon and MPs cover. There is no need to redesign the system.

    I think the Kelly report will probably conclude less MPs and adopting an EU system, if not directly then through proxy. The issue being hijacked by those who wanted those things anyway.

    We shouldn’t have less mps but more (in theory), we can afford them and it enables people to really know their local representative and not vote for someone they have only ever seen of a leaflet. The reason given for less mps is usually efficiency, a philosophy that would also lead to an ideal outcome of only one person running everything.
    If we need less of something it is EUrocrats, UNocrats and Quangocrats. There have been a long line of attacks on parliament in recent years, less mps would be yet another.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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