Yesterday the Speaker’s remarks triggered another wave of bad press for Parliament. Last night there was a meeting to discuss what to do next about MPs’ expenses. I would like the Speaker to give us another Statement, based on whatever took place at that private meeting for a few MPs on the relevant committee. Ideally he would say:
” I am conscious that Parliament’s standing has fallen badly. I recognise that many in the House and many more outside wishes to see us rebuild the stature of our democratic institution.
“Last night we began that task. Immediate measures will be taken to tighten the audit and control over MPs’ expenses, to ensure that MPs only claim what is necessarily incurred to carry out their Parliamentary duties. I would ask members to ensure that in their own interests they only claim items which sensible constituents will think reasonable. We all need to realise that the public in this period of economic difficulty will expect us to be more cautious than in the past about what we can claim. It is not fair to seek to pressurise the arbitration of junior officials in the Fees office in substitution for a member’s own judgement of what is right and defensible. We will await the Kelly Report later this year before determining on a major reform of the system, designed to lower its cost and to increase the transparency of the whole process.
“The public are not convinced that this Parliament is doing a good job or providing value for the large sums spent on it. We need not only to control our costs, but to be more successful at examining the conduct of public administration. We need to demonstrate that the scrutiny we provide to legislation is sufficient and produces better law. With that in mind I am holding talks with representatives of the government to see how we can ensure that major changes of government policy are always announced first to this House in oral Statements and that less important matters are always reported in writing in a timely way. I will ask how we can manage the timetable more effectively to give Parliament the time it needs for the important issues and for the most contentious items.
“I will point out to the government that this is Parliament’s wish, as many Labour backbenchers join with memebrs of other parties in wanting Parliament to have a proper chance to consider the government’s measures and actions. I will remind Ministers that they too,as Parliamentarians, should want that. Government Ministers will be given plenty of time to set out their case, so they should have nothing to fear from such changes. Government Ministers should remember they too, one day will return to being backbenchers.
“I have asked the police not to continue investigation of any leak of the expense details to media outlets who observe the need to avoid publication of sensitive information affecting members’ security. “