Parliament sinks again

The heavily edited publication of expenses has done more damage to an institution under fire.

Many people want an institution which does more, costs less, and is more open.

We have discussed – and by a large majority agreed – on this site that Parliament needs to stand up against both the UK executive and Brussels, and assert more of the rights, interests and views of the British people.

We also need a Parliament which is better at controlling the costs of the whole UK public sector. To do so, it needs to be able to show it can control its own costs and give value.

As an MP I am frustrated that there is no effective opportunity to review, challenge or help control the costs of Parliament itself. There is no annual event when someone presents the accounts, takes responsibiltiy for the budgets, and proposes the budgets for the following year, to be followed by a decent debate. Scheduled debates on the annual estimates of spending for the whole national budget rarely allow detailed investigation of the costs of Parliament, and if anyone tried to use time for this purpose there would be no-one responsible responding or prepared to change what was going on. There is no Minister driving value for money.

It is true that there are similar problems in applying effective scutiny to much larger budgets under Ministerial control, but at least with say the welfare budget there is a named Minister responsible and an opportunity during the year to highlight the departmental budget, with a special Select Committee which can also review it.

Parliament needs to get a lot better at controlling and challenging all public spending. The Speaker candidates have not so far addressed this crucial issue. It would be good if under a new Speaker new ways were found to show we are in charge of our own total costs, as a prelude to doing a better job at getting value for money from the rest of public spending.


  1. Mick Anderson
    June 19, 2009

    I suppose that in theory the Chancellor of the Exchequer is meant to be in charge of the countries purse strings, and is therefore responsible for value for money.

    However, as the Labour Party seems to think that spending as much money as possible is popular with the Electorate, there is no incentive to care about efficiency or how effectively any money is spent.

    Every departmental head should be accountable for all spending by their minions, and the Cabinet should be accountable for the departmental heads – a pyramid of responsibility. But even if this is true, the rubbish that is spouted by the head of the Government about “investment” makes a mockery even of this chain of command.

    Perhaps if the country was allowed to vote for a properly proposed total spend at the beginning of every year, with the MPs being allowed to keep the remainder from that total (and personally having to pay the difference if they missed that target) would sharpen their minds. I’d bet spending and waste would drop like a stone if they could pocket the odd billion pounds in change!

  2. cuffleyburgers
    June 19, 2009

    But surely it is not the speaker’s job to seek value for money, that must be the chancellor’s job and the greta opportunity to present accounts and debate future spending should surely be Budget day?

    The problem is of course that Labour have hijacked this event, shut down debate, introduced systematic lying and utterly abused the arcane conventions and procedures that for centuries have worked reasonably well (well enough to repeal the corn laws, abolish slavery, defeat Napoleon, Kaiser Bill and Hitler not to mention Arthur Scargill)

    As usual, I suspect what is needed is not reform, or new laws, but simply the correct application of existing laws, rules, conventions, traditions etc

    Oh and a GE, and a referendum as well…

  3. APL
    June 19, 2009

    JR: “The heavily edited publication of expenses has done more damage to an institution under fire.”

    The Telegraph has been vindicated. Simple as that!

    1. jean baker
      June 19, 2009

      Indeed not – was the ‘leaked’ confidential information pertaining to certain, ‘selected’ members passed to the Telegraph free or was the ‘bean spiller’ duly recompensed ?

      Odd that the Telegraph sought not to investigate why the Fees Office authorized the alleged ‘disallowable’ claims. There again, media spinners and manipulators never do.

      1. alan jutson
        June 20, 2009

        Does it matter.

        The fact is the Telegraph has exposed what was going on.

        The Government can hardly complain they bought a stolen CD from an informer over offshore accounts.

        1. jean baker
          June 22, 2009

          It matters in a democracy if details of ‘selected’ MP’s were ‘leaked’ to the press on the sole basis of malice aforethought.

          Odd that the Telegraph sought not to investigate why the Fees Office authorized the alleged ‘disallowable’ claims. There again, those used as media spinners and manipulators never do.

          Many believe the ‘mindset’ behind it is akin to the ‘mafioso’.

  4. alan jutson
    June 19, 2009

    I Like your thinking here John.

    Another example of an MP who has business experience.

    But the problem that I see is that very few MP’s (of all Parties) have any of the normal commercial skills or knowledge to understand what you are talking about.

    Yes of course we want value for money, of course we want proper open debate, your frustration is our frustration as well.

    It was frustrating for me to see David Cameron on Wednesdays question time, not able to hold The Prime Minister to account in any meaningful way with regard to the Country’s finances at all.

    I can only imagine there you were, sitting on the benches with all of the questions, and all of the answers in your head and at your fingertips, thinking if only I had a chance of a go, head to head with Brown over finance.

    George Osbourne has been so quiet these last few months I was beginning to think he was on holiday, not seen him much on TV, in the Press, on the Radio. Meanwhile Vince Cable seems to have been crowned king of the financial advisors of this world by all and sundry, because he explains himself well, in language that is understood by most people.

    Clearly the next election, and the lead up to it, is going to be about Public expenditure, as its what Gordon Brown feels he is comfortable with. If the Conservatives do not put up a very good and well thought out policy, with the numbers to back it up, to nail the Labour lies and spin, then they stand the chance of being out manouvered on this subject.

    I can only suggest that DC puts you forward to fight numbers with numbers, as it would appear to me that you are head and shoulders above anyone else on this subject.

    With regard to Mp’s Blankety Blank, Blankety Blank, Black Thursday. It was no more than I expected, the thought that Gordon Brown and his Government were going to be transparent and open, was never going to be the case and never will.

    The only good thing to come out of it, I think even most Mp’s think it is now a farce.

    But here is the real problem. Mp’s make all of these decisions and create new legislation, regulations and the like, and they all seem to be carried out in an uncontrolable manner by unaccountable officials who seem to glory in their own power over the people.

    As you say Parliament neds to change and become more accountable in more ways than one.

    Reply: As often I was trying to ask a question but the Speaker rarely calls me!

    1. alan jutson
      June 19, 2009

      Then let us hope the new Speaker has some commonsense, and calls those who know their subject well, so a proper and informed debate can be held.

    2. jean baker
      June 19, 2009


      It’s no surprise that the Speaker rarely calls you and, I imagine, many other ‘non laborites’. Labour has never governed on a true, democratic basis. It has always operated on the non political basis of spin and manipulation; recent poll results confirm decent, honest voters are sickened by it and the appalling mess it’s created.

      Labour’s (predictable) reaction is to ‘up’ the spin, manipulation and media sleaze.

      Your dedication and tenacity is appreciated and applauded.

  5. Wyvern
    June 19, 2009

    One thing I’ve always struggled to understand in this ‘power and independance of parliament’ debate is how on earth we can expect parliament to have any real control over the executive when the executive is drawn from parliament and the very raison d’etre of most parliamentarians is to scrabble their way up the greasy pole to a position within the executive. The whole edifice is set-up to fail as any real tamper on the powers of the executive.

    1. backofanenvelope
      June 19, 2009

      I’m with you Wyvern! I think we should swallow our remaining pride and copy the US system. The legislator and the executive should be separated. We should have a nationally elected Prime Minister. The upper house should be an elected senate. Fixed terms for both. Two senators for each county, one to be a woman.

  6. Mike Stallard
    June 19, 2009

    You are (again) so right!
    I reckon there are two causes for the decay of parliament.
    1. The New Labour Project. Deliberately the parliament has been side tracked and rigidly controlled. The civil service has been replaced by committee government. The MPs have been put on pagers – it was the first thing Mr Blair did. There are – or were – lots of very adoring and loyal women too. Above all, the voters were hoodwinked by the obedient and tamed press. It was all part of the project to “modernise” Britain. Of course, the down side was that there was no real discussion at crucial moments – David Kelly, Iraq, the economic crisis – and that led to the wrong decisions being made. With a bit of luck, David Cameron will restore a little of what has been stolen from us: our constitution.
    2. The other half is entirely due to the “Castle of Lies” which is the EU. It is corrupt, violent (OLAF), narrow minded, with a one party government, where it is just commonsense to believe in more and more power going to the centre; a stupid and repulsive Civil Service which, we are led to believe, does not even exist; a load of cowed Commissioners; and a fatal ability, through Coreper, to interfere in a bossy, Socialist way in the States which have been hoodwinked into agreeing to be part of “Europe”. At the moment there is no hope of reforming this shibboleth because it is deliberately boring and nobody cares. One day, it will make a seriously bad decision, though. Then there will be civil war in Europe.

    1. jean baker
      June 19, 2009

      Well said !

      Discrediting/rendering our Mother of all Parliaments unworkable is, it seems, the focus of the “All Hail Brussels” Brigade.

      Whilst Hitler showed his true colours, the true colours of the Lisbon Treaty remain concealed; peoples’ rights to be openly informed and vote on it oppressed by Nulabor. The ‘thinking’ – “Conquered people have no rights” springs to mind.

  7. Simon D
    June 19, 2009

    I agree that we must start our clean up with Parliament itself and applaud the Conservative promise to reduce the House of Commons to 600 MPs elected by new constituencies of roughly equal numbers. A good start – but not as good as reducing it to 400.

    Despite the fact that life has changed and most of our legislation comes from Brussels, we still have a House of Commons much as it was in 1945. One difference has been that MPs have re-invented themselves as part-time social workers.

    We need a grown up public debate on the following questions.

    1. What is the House of Commons for?
    2. How can it best perform its functions?
    3. What is the ideal job description of an MP?
    4. How can the rules of House be re-configured to discharge its functions more effectively?
    5. How can costs be contained within reasonable levels?
    6. How can the costs of H of C Plc be independently audited and controlled?

    What is missing in the Conservative Manifesto is any clue about their plans for reforming the ludicrous arrangements in the House of Lords or their ideas for solving the West Lothian question.

    However, the good news is that we seem to be on the foothills of some kind of public debate. I think the Conservatives need to be bold in their thinking – after all A C L Blair energetically applied liberal quantities of weedkiller to what he saw at the defective parts of the constitution.

    1. jean baker
      June 19, 2009

      Open, transparent democratic government is Britain’s entitlement but does not exist with Nulabor.

      Reducing the number of MP’s, i.e. the electorate’s right to democratic representation is totally wrong.

      Those concerned with the cost of MP’s should ask themselves who is paying Blair’s salary in his time killing exercise awaiting, it’s reported, the Precidency of the EU. Those on the front line report his involvement in the middle east is as worthwhile as a chocolote fireguard; taxpayer funded costs of his entourage are staggeringly high. If he’s acting as a British representative, it’s fair to assume it’s at taxpayers’ expense.

  8. Stuart Fairney
    June 19, 2009

    I saw Brown making a speech yesterday saying he supported open government in a week when:

    ~ he won’t publish the report that “cleared” Shaid Malik
    ~ expenses are so redacted as to be useless and
    ~ the Iraq war enquiry is on a privvy council basis

    This is beyond satire.

    1. jean baker
      June 19, 2009

      I agree … if ‘expenses are so redacted as to be useless’, how come ‘certain ones’ were deemed ‘useful’ enough to be leaked to the Telegraph ?

    2. Adrian Peirson
      June 19, 2009

      Sadly many will see this speech and think what a great leader, I agree with him, we should have more transparency, yes he’s right, he has my support.
      They will fail to see the contradictions to what he said the day before.
      This is how it works, the Zombified masses, hypnotised by showmen, in Suits, who simply bluff their way into stealing our liberties and indeed our country.
      Take Jack Straw tinkering with the right to a Trial in front of a Juru of your Peers.
      Yesterday began the First Major trial without a Jury, now if the Govt it doesn’t like you, all it needs is one corrupt Judge.
      Just imagine what will happen when you combine this with the Civil Contingencies Bill which might well be introduced for the coming Swine Flu Pandemic.

      If I were a cynic I might say it was all deliberate.

      1. Stuart Fairney
        June 19, 2009

        The removal of the jury is a re-run of what I believe were called Diplock courts in Northern Ireland.

        All very sensible until you think about it. Why not convey all the proceedings to a jury in a remote location, unknown to the defendants? Not perfect, but better than this.

        1. Adrian Peirson
          June 20, 2009

          Couldn’t agree more, why not have the Jury in a remote location, This move by Jack Straw is very sinsister..

  9. Brian Tomkinson
    June 19, 2009

    JR: “The heavily edited publication of expenses has done more damage to an institution under fire.”

    The blame for this lies entirely with MPs. They must accept responsibility for their own actions but seem determined not to do so. After yesterday’s farce, which I understand cost the taxpayers over £1,000,000, MPs were still failing to accept responsibility and trying to blame “officials”. It is only because of the Daily Telegraph that we know the truth about MPs’ expenses. We know that MPs did not want this information revealed and have gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent disclosure. Yesterday’s activities confirmed just how duplicitous MPs are. What little trust there was in politicians has been completely shattered. The need for a clearout and a fresh start has been re-confirmed but in their usual way MPs will carry on and hope that the public will lose interest. What possible confidence can anyone have in these MPs scrutinising anything effectively on behalf of those they purport to represent?

    1. jean baker
      June 19, 2009

      I do not condone impropriety, but you seem to have overlooked the fact that no MP dipped his hand in the till and stole taxpayers’ money in broad daylight. Unlike MEPS, the Fees Office (Browns own staff) authorized every last penny for which receipts are (reportedly) a requirement. No receipts are required for the vastly more costly MEP’s expenses.

      Either Brown’s system or his staff are seriously malfunctioning – the MP’s in question did not authorize the claims themselves.

      1. Brian Tomkinson
        June 19, 2009

        I don’t think that you have been studying the claims made by MPs. No doubt things are even worse in the anti-democratic EU but that does not excuse the abuses by MPs in Westminster and they should take responsibility for their own actions.

        1. jean baker
          June 22, 2009

          I never buy into media spin and manipulation. The issue starts and ends with the Fees Office – Brown’s (reported) staff who, according to reports, appear to have been operating a corrupted system and at taxpayers’ expense.

          Predictable Nulabor are simply using the media to undermine opposition, including Labour dissidents.

      2. alan jutson
        June 19, 2009


        Thought it was the Speakers staff who authorized or not the expenses. Hence his demise.

        Some got close to broad daylight with regard to maladministration with their claims.

        Those who cheated the system with no mortgages and who did not pay the correct, or any tax.

        Unterstand from the News that criminal investigations are now underway.

        Not before time.

        1. jean baker
          June 22, 2009

          No, definitely the Fees Office. Any ‘news’ of Brown’s staff – those responsible – being ‘criminally investigated’ ?

  10. Andy
    June 19, 2009

    Here’s my suggestion, that I don’t think MPs could object to:

    Non redacted expense reports (including receipts) should be published every year (at least). But not to the public (although that would be the ideal, but there is no way the turkeys would vote for that Christmas); but rather publushed to each other.

    Every MP should be able to see the expenses of every other MP in full. Then we let nature take its course: every last one of you would know that your opposition would have enormous fun “outing” you if you were on the fiddle, so would clean up your act. Allocating a day for a budget review every year would be the perfect time for this. Expenses are now enough of a political hot potato that social darwinism will take care of it as long as there is a survival-of-the-most-honest environment created.

    The problem at the moment is that there is no adversarial system in place for expenses. The parliamentary fees office doesn’t behave like a private-sector accounts department would – actively trying to reduce costs – they act like MPs employees, helping them to get the most out of their claims.

    1. alan jutson
      June 19, 2009

      Do not agree.

      Hhave an expense system exactly the same as all other employed people in the uk, which is approved by the Inland Revenue.

      Its simple and consistant.

  11. oldrightie
    June 19, 2009

    It sank in 1997. Since then very little has floated to the surface. A lot has now but what else is still trapped in the wreck?

  12. Ruth
    June 19, 2009

    Right again John.

    It is a question of culture. Yesterday I had a look at the expense claims of my MP – Janet Anderson (Labour). I found that every month she claimed petty cash of £250 for both her Commons and Constituency offices, a total of £500 per month. Now petty cash, in the real world, is a small float (not £250 in any business I know) to pay for small items. Each month, you reconcile purchases with what is left and submit a claim (with receipts) for monies to bring the cash back to the level of the original float.

    I think the activities of Ms Anderson are symbolic of the parliamentary approach – no need to account for individual items, the rules (set by MPs) allow a claim of up to £250 per month for this so (some) MPs do. It really doesn’t matter where the money comes from, or who is footing the bill. I am mystified at how an MP can get through £6000 of taxpayers’ money every year for “petty cash” when she claims separately for office supplies, postage, etc.

    Anyone who runs a business knows that you scrutinise every item of expenditure, from paperclips upwards. If MPs cannot be diligent and economical in running their own offices, they should not be running the country.

    I despair…

  13. Neil Craig
    June 19, 2009

    Real sinkling will be when Parliament votes in its next Speaker on the whip’s instructions & a do nothing policy. his will show the public that, despite the apologies & promises to learn parliamentarians have done little.

  14. Demetrius
    June 19, 2009

    I t***k that they have m**e a dreadful m*ss of the whole i***e. In t****g to m**e us all look l**e f***s, they have only m**e themselves look l**e c*****t and vindictive i***ts.

    Work that one out Mr. Speaker.

  15. Mark M
    June 19, 2009

    Have any MPs chosen not to redact their whole address and left us with at least some clue as to the whereabouts of their home (city + first part of post code), in order to avoid being accused a ‘flipper’?

    In terms of value for money, each department needs some form of output target and budget target. Preferably the budget target, at least for the next 5 or 10 years, will be a 2-3% real terms cut every year and the output target will need to be something to be debated, and is preferably some form of steady customer satisfaction measure as this is where we need to see the results of government spend, not in backroom employment figures but in frontline services.

    Ministers and senior managers then need basic salaries and bonuses linked to these outputs, so they are encouraged to actually achieve them. You’d be surprised how hard people are prepared to look for cost savings and efficiencies when there’s a few grand in it for them.

  16. Pete Chown
    June 19, 2009

    At the next Prime Minister’s Questions, perhaps David Cameron could ask Brown to back full publication of the expenses, without redactions.

    I was thinking about this when I read about all the redacted information. Brown is the leader of the largest party in the Commons, so to a great extent, it’s his decision what gets published. It would be nice if this could be made clear to the public and the media.

    There have been individual MPs from all parties who have behaved dishonourably. However, that’s in the past. Improving the system is the important thing now, and it seems that Labour are standing in the way, by opposing transparency.

  17. eeyore
    June 19, 2009

    It’s getting very hard to avoid the conclusion that HMG has become the rapacious enemy of the people, and the current House of Commons its useful idiots. Not the least remarkable of the events of the past month has been the public’s self-control in the face of provocation amounting sometimes (as in this morning’s news) to mere insolence. Not a single MP’s windows broken; not one tyre slashed; not – so far as I know – so much as one ugly threat! One wonders in how many other countries people would behave so well. One also wonders how long this resigned tolerance will last. Perhaps Mr Brown, with his unique tin ear for the public mood, imagines there is no problem. Let’s hope that for once he is not mistaken.

    As to the central premise of your post, Mr Redwood, I was under the impression that Parliament has long possessed all the powers it needs to regulate its own affairs in any manner it thinks fit. That it does not do so says much about a great many MPs, but nothing at all about the House they dishonour by their sitting in it. As so often under this administration, it is not new powers which MPs need but the candour and courage to use existing powers honestly.

    1. Mike Stallard
      June 20, 2009

      Well, I for one am a god sport. I play the game by the rules. At the moment, our team is losing. The ref is biased, but – hey – that’s life! We just get on with it.
      What we are all waiting for is our election.
      We know, too that that may not be fair what with postal votes, funny counting, strange constituency boundaries and (possible impersonation-ed). (I base all this on past cases).
      If the election gets mucked up, that is when we, like the Iranians, take to the streets.

  18. Jonathan
    June 19, 2009

    The Chancellor of the Exchequer is supposed to the minister responsible for driving value for money. Why isn’t he doing his job?

    1. alan jutson
      June 19, 2009

      He seems incapable, and appears to be just Browns Patsy for when things go wrong.

  19. pipesmoker
    June 19, 2009

    “……….Parliament needs to stand up against both the UK executive and Brussels, and assert more of the rights, interests and views of the British people.”

    That says it all John and I for one am not too bothered about MP’s expenses and see them as a convenient distraction, for some, from the business of this country’s loss of governance to the EU and the impotence of parliament to do anything about it.

    The main thing about the expenses debacle is that it shows the mindset of a number of MP’s who treat public concern and opinion over the EU with absolute contempt. That started with Edward Heath and has not changed.

  20. Robert K, Oxford
    June 19, 2009

    The intriguing thing about the public’s reaction to the expenses scandal is that all the outrage and disgust is directed against what is a sideshow in a much grander con-trick. Okay, the principle of MPs tucking into our cash for duck houses is odious, but the practice of stripping us of half of our money year-in, year-out to fund the client state is where the rage should be directed.
    Where are the politicians who will promise to dismantle the State superstructure and hand back to us the responsibility of caring for ourselves, our families and our neighbours? Nowhere, with a few honourable exceptions, because to do so would be to diminish their influence.
    Indeed the irony of the expenses sham is that politicians aren’t in it for the money – they’re it so they can have a go playing with the levers of control. Sure, they’re happy to hand back £500,000 so long as they can stay in their slighly de-feathered nests. The real news will be when they start handing back their power.
    By the way, the Daily Mail this morning had the entertaining headline “How stupid do they think we are?”. Well, obviously pretty stupid. But so long as we tolerate the ongoing corruption of the State maybe “they” are not as wrong as all that.

  21. Stuart Fairney
    June 19, 2009


    OT, but you mentioned you were in the USA recently. Do they photgraph and fingerprint you going through immigration or do you get an exemption as a member of parliament?

    Reply: I am treated like everyone else

  22. chris southern
    June 19, 2009

    The powers of the cabinet need to be given to the house of commons.
    The cabinet ministers should only be those of related experience, not just jobs for the boys (which just gives us yes men which happen to be useless puppets)

    if the cabinet was seperated from the party with a majority and was answerable to the commons, as well as only able to put into action what the commons wishes as well as the lords passing we would have a transparent system.

    politicians would still be able to bring forward ideas before the house and debate would again happen, the cabinet members with having to have the neccesary experience within said role (encouraging people with real experience to go into politics) would be able to also advise how a possible statute has flaws due to the possible negative impact it would bring (currently when something goes through, with or without the consent of the two houses, the negative impacts haven’t been thought out!)

    The cabinet positions could be separate from the party with the majority, only those with the neccesesary real world experience could apply for said position as well as having to have had experience of X amount of years as an mp.
    this would bring back the experience that our system so drasticly needs (our past amateurs were in fact professionals within their chosen fields! currently any party place man can serve with no relevent experience or qualifications (an they think they could earn more in the private sector!)

    Hope it’s legible

  23. Freeborn John
    June 19, 2009

    “The state we are speaking of (England) will lose its liberty, will perish. Have not Rome, Sparta, and Carthage perished? It will perish when the legislative power shall be more corrupt than the executive”. Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (1752).

  24. Nick
    June 19, 2009

    OK John’s edited (redacted 🙂 ) part of my post.

    One part that is missing relates to the tax status of MPs.

    Why should MPs have a privilidged tax status?

    No doubt pressure will lead to this being changed, with MPs being brought down.

    There is an alternative. A very simple law and I’ll draft it.

    All privilidges of MPs are automatically available to all subjects of the UK.

    We can be brought up to that level.

    Now if MPs want a per diem allowance, tax free, we can all get our employers to pay us a per diem allowance tax free, too

  25. figurewizard
    June 19, 2009

    One reform that would be more than welcome would be that whenever the Prime Minister is asked a direct question; especially from the other side of the House, he would be required to give a direct answer. All we seem to get From Gordon Brown when challenged on just about any topic is evasion followed by one of his tired slogans such as , ‘the do-nothing party.’

    Perhaps we should all be asking for Jeremey Paxman to take over the woolsack.

    1. chris southern
      June 19, 2009

      Keep up mate, this month his catch phrase is 10% cuts lol

  26. Michael
    June 19, 2009

    Vote for Bercow John – He is the only Conservative MP who can win the Speaker election.

  27. Roy
    June 20, 2009

    According to The Times today MPs are plotting to abandon the publication of expenses receipts in future. After all that has happened and been exposed surely this cannot be right?

  28. Adrian Peirson
    June 20, 2009

    I wonder how long ot will be before we have Govt / EU paid Bloggers calling for Parliament to be shut down and us to be run on a Regional Basis.

    Not that I’m suggesting that this Million pound storm in a teacup has been staged for that purpose.

    How much was the Banker Bailout, where is the money, Where is our Gold, how much does the EU cost us a year.

Comments are closed.