A plague on both your houses

Lord Norton

47566Clearly, the issue of expenses is one that is attracting widespread media attention and is having some remarkable resonance with the public.  This is not one of those issues that is confined to the Westminster world.

The focus is primarily on the Commons in respect of expenses, though not exclusively so.  There is clearly a case for action, both immediate and then in terms of creating a rigorous and transparent framework for determining what is appropriate remuneration (in terms of salary and expenses) for parliamentarians.  The Committee on Standards in Public Life will be reporting with its recommendations.  Although it is fairly common for members of legislatures to determine their own remuneration, my view is that the issue should be determined by an external body established by statute.   It would be a public (not a private) body and should be transparent in its operations.  

In terms of the Lords, the more important issue, to my mind, is ensuring we have rigorous procedures in place to deal with any member who transgresses the rules relating to conduct.  The sub-committee of the Privileges Committee should be reporting shortly on allegations made against four peers and the Committee itself will be reporting on what procedures should be introduced to deal with anyone found to have breached the rules.   It is likely that provisions for disciplinary action will be included in the Constitutional Renewal Bill.  I also see a case for us having an officer akin to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards who serves the Commons.  Indeed, as the Parliamentary Commissioner is part-time, there may be a case for making the post full-time and encompassing the Lords: he would then really be a ‘Parliamentary’ Commissioner.

On expenses, there is a qualitative difference between the two Houses.  MPs receive a salary as parliamentarians.   They also qualify for pensions when they leave the House.  They receive a range of allowances to cover staff and office costs, as well as – what has been the cause of the furore – to cover having to maintain two homes if they do not represent constituencies in London. 

Peers do not receive a salary for their parliamentary work.  As there is no salary (and as peers in any event cannot retire) there is no pension.   To enable them to attend the Lords, there are allowances.  In many respects, peers are simliar to councillors.  The only differences are that now allowances are paid automatically to councillors regardless of attendance (peers have to attend in order to be able to claim) and councillors do not incur costs of having to stay overnight.   For a peer living in London, the only daily attendance allowances that can be claimed are for subsistence (£86.50) and secretarial/research support (£75).  If one lives outside London, one can claim overnight attendance allowance (£174) for those nights one has to stay in London to attend the House.  Apart from that, for those who have to travel from their main home to London, travel expenses are covered, but if you travel by public transport you use a travel card and the cost is met directly: no money goes to the peer.   The allowances are based on the recommendations of the Senior Salary Review Body; they could in the future be determined by the external statutory body that I have recommended. 

There are obvious problems in relation to the overnight accommodation allowance if someone has a main home in London but designates a home elsewhere as the main one.   There is a case for greater clarity in terms of how this is defined; otherwise, the issue becomes not the rules but the enforcement of them.  That to my mind is the main issue.  I can see also the argument about those who just turn up in order to be seen and their names recorded, and then go.   There is the flip side in that those who spend long days in the House, attending committees and devoting themselves to the work of the House, get no extra recompense for so doing.   I detect no great desire in the House to do anything in terms of additional support for those who work hard in this way: it is seen as part of one’s duty to the House.   The only thing that tends to grate is that this work gets overlooked when the attention focuses on those whose attendance is brief.

  That relates to the wider issue.   If only a few transgress, some members of the public assume that all members are transgressing.  There are plenty of ‘they are all at it’ comments on blogs and in the correspondence columns.  These comments annoy me intensely, but they reflect a common perception and one that we cannot ignore.   Being simply defensive won’t wash, but at the same time we  need to make clear what the position is and that it is not necessarily what people assume it to be.   We do, though, need to be expeditious and rigorous in ensuring that we have in place rules and procedures that are (a) clear (b) fair (c) enforced and (d) seen to be all of these.

40 comments for “A plague on both your houses

  1. Jonathan Hogg
    13/05/2009 at 12:36 pm

    The fundamental issue seems to be one of transparency. I’m all for there being some independent way of determining how much parliamentarians should be recompensed, but the most important thing to me is that it be clear and published *in full*. Even if nothing was done to change the current state of affairs, the simple act of publishing the expenses claims allows the public to see what their money is being spent on and decide for themselves whether it is fair. Those abusing the system are shamed into making amends. This is the right and proper thing to happen in a democracy. It is really for the voting public to determine what is acceptable and then make their choice at the ballot box.

    My biggest worry is that this furore is used as an excuse to establish a new mechanism that is less transparent. There would be some hand-waving about the workings of the new independent commission having to be kept closed for security/privacy/anti-terrorism/whatever reasons, and then we’d end up as much in the dark as we were before, but with the politicians looking like they’ve taken decisive action to “clean up” the process.

    Regarding your concern about how parliamentarians that do little work make the hard-working ones look bad: this seems to be a similar problem of transparency. The solution is for the public to know exactly what their representatives are up to. I would suggest that parliamentarians be required to keep a diary of engagements and that this be published – after the fact for security reasons. If these were published in a standard form, perhaps by Hansard, then it wouldn’t take long for the smart guys at MySociety to add it to TheyWorkForYou.com for easy access.

    There has been a lot of bleating from MPs about the indignity of the suggestion that they clock in and out of the Commons in order to qualify for their expenses. This seems perfectly reasonable to me. MPs seem to have a habit of forgetting that they have a job not some special right. The rest of us go to work every day and are perfectly used to having to tell our bosses what we are doing. MPs should be thankful they don’t work in a call centre and suffer the indignity of having their toilet breaks timed.

    It’s quite simple: they work for us. As such we have the right to know what they do and what they get paid for it.

    • Croft
      13/05/2009 at 1:16 pm

      Jonathan Hogg: There has been a suggestion that if an external body were to conduct/audit the expenses it would be exempt from FoI requests (not being a public body)

  2. Paul
    13/05/2009 at 12:39 pm

    In situations like this I remember an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where Detective Fin Tutuola said “Street justice is always bloody.”

    That’s what we’re seeing here. MPs and Lords have had plenty of time to sort this out and have failed to do so. In addition, it now seems that not only have they failed to sort things out, but the ones who have behaved reasonably honourably have let others run riot. As no one else has acted, “the street” is sorting it out, and the good as well as the bad are getting a little “bloody”.

    You may not like the “they are all at it” comments but really, you’ve had fair warning that it was coming haven’t you?

  3. 13/05/2009 at 12:53 pm

    I wonder if we couldn’t buy some housing in London, and make it available free to MPs who need somewhere in London to live; we could do this generously, so an MP would have “their” flat/house for the duration of their time as an MP. We would be responsible for upkeep and maintenance, in the way that any other landlord is.

  4. Croft
    13/05/2009 at 1:11 pm

    If parliament wants the public to have confidence about the proper investigation of MPs and peers both need an external independent investigating body for all financial matters, not their own respective privileges committees – however honest they may be it looks bad. The parliamentary authorities appear to have waved though many dubious claims. Now they may have been in an invidious position as they were monitoring their ’employers’ but the best solution is surely an independent pay/expenses office staffed with some of those nice people at the Inland revenue, Legal Aid Board and insurance auditors who are so good at saying no to claims! Further as long as properties can be claimed for (mortgages etc.) the Inland revenue and fee office need to be working together to ensure that parliamentarians can’t have two different claimed primary homes.

    I’m not quite clear on your point about the SSRB – are you suggestion a new body? Personally I’m not keen on the SSRB as it seems rather too good at deciding in favour of pay raises. I can quite see left to its own devices it might recommend a large salary increase for MPs which they would then say they had to accept as they shouldn’t decide their own salary. I doubt the public will accept the impression of the MPs being paid more to keep their hands out of the till.

    The issue of attendance is a thorny one, but I’m sure peers know perfectly well amongst themselves who just turns up and leaves. It must pass for comment in the tea rooms. The house/external authorities ought to force members suspected of such practice to provide evidence of work done or withhold claims.

    You say: rules and procedures that are (a) clear (b) fair (c) enforced and (d) seen to be all of these.

    I’d add one more: agreed quickly not after the lords is dragged to it by the tabloids.

  5. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 1:18 pm

    Jonathan Hogg: Thanks for your comments. I agree with what you write. Transparency is at the heart of it. On the point about the work that is undertaken, I think most of the data are available – minutes of committee meetings record who attends etc – but the problem is accessing it and drawing it together in respect of each member. Theyworkforyou.com does it for some of the data, but only some. I would be all in further of being able to take it further so that one could capture more comprehensive data. I do keep a diary, but I am not sure one could impose that as a requirement and in any event, given that the data already exist, may not be nevessary.

    Paul: I would concur, but only up to a point. On the Lords side, I am not sure what it was that we should have seen was coming. There is a case that we should have seen the need to bring us into line with the Commons for dealing with peers who commit serious criminal offences (but that to some degree was already on the political agenda). I am not sure what else one could argue that we had ‘fair warning’ was coming.

    Matthew: This suggestion is variously made and I can see the argument for it; there is something similar in one or two other parliaments. That could be done with new members. I am not sure what one does in respect of those who already have London properties and which were not acquired using allowances. I rather favour instead the recommendations made in yesterday’s Leader in ‘The Times’.

    • Paul
      13/05/2009 at 3:58 pm

      Lord Norton – I was responding to your annoyance at the “they are all at it” comments.

      In the public mind a politician is a politician is a politician. You may draw a distinction between a Lord and an MP, but most people won’t, and when something happens, you’ll all be tarred with the same brush.

      Therefore, if you don’t want those comments, then you need to be concerned with the actions of your MP colleagues.

      Public concern over MPs expenses has been growing for some time, and there has been plenty of time for politicians to put things in order. To my mind, that includes the Lords applying pressure to the Commons, just as professions apply professional standards on their members – your reputation is, after all, dependant on theirs. That either hasn’t happened or has been ineffective. Therefore it’s hard for me to have any sympathy with your annoyance, no matter how justified it is, especially when public concern over this issue has been so clear to see.

  6. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 1:27 pm

    Croft: I agree that it needs to be an external body. As a statutory public body, it would not be exempt from FoI. (That’s why I made the point it would need to be a public body.) I am not necessarily advocating the SSRB. For reasons of space, I cut out from my post what I had included in an initial draft: that is, raising whether it might be the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which I have previously argued should be (along with other standards-setting bodies falling under the remit of the Cabinet Office) put on a statutory basis.

    On the work undertaken by peers, more could be captured in terms of the data available regarding peers’ activity, but beyond that I agree with you: we know who is doing the work and who isn’t.

    On your last point, I agree completely. The sooner we act, the better.

  7. 13/05/2009 at 1:38 pm

    I thought MP’s salary was meant to be determined by the Senior
    Salaries Review Board? I also seem to remember the recommendations of
    the board where ignored last time around.

    The current behaviour is easy to condemn (and I do) but I feel I have
    to speak up for the politicians a little. It does seem rich having the
    media (home of the dodgy expense claim) drawing the story out for a
    week or so just to sell papers. Especially as many of these
    commentators are doing well with salaries far higher than the average
    MP.

    I agree the House needs a clear and transparent expenses system that
    isn’t as open to “gaming” as the current set-up. I’m just a little
    bemused by the excessive coverage.

  8. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 1:56 pm

    Alex Bennee: As you indicate, the SSRB can only make recommendations. It is then up to the House whether to accept them. There have been deviations from the recommendations, but – as far as I am aware – not at the Lords end. The problem really arises because in the past MPs’ salaries have not been high, but Governments have been reluctant to bring them up to what they should have been in one go (‘not the right time’ etc) with the result that such things as the second home allowances have been introduced, with the consequences we now see. As I mentioned earlier, I favour the recommendations made in yesterday’s ‘Times’, which would involve a significant increase in an MP’s salary and the allowance abolished.

    The public have always been wary of politicians and it is as such that MPs and peers are seen at the moment. If we do something right, then we are described in different terms. Politicians rank alongside estate agents and journalists as categories of people that the public do not trust to tell the truth. There is a lot, independent of the present situation, that we could do to address that. Thank goodness that a clear majority of the public trust professors to tell the truth.

  9. Jonathan Hogg
    13/05/2009 at 2:00 pm

    Lord Norton: Thanks for your response. My point about a public diary was more directed at MPs rather than Lords to be honest. They have the more difficult problem of balancing constituency work, attendance at debates and committees, and any executive work as ministers. Thus they are the most likely to complain about only part of the work they do being a matter of public record. As to the incompleteness of TheyWorkForYou.com, this just brings us back to the form of information published by Parliament and the difficulty of processing it. They are just volunteers.

    Matthew: Something like social housing for London nurses? 😉

    Croft: Unfortunately, however independent a body is, it could still only be charged with making sure that MPs comply with the rules – and the previous body did that. If an independent body made the rules then we would end up with a system that was *less* accountable than before, as the public won’t be electing the members of this body. I much prefer that Parliament makes its own rules, as we can hold them to account. Publishing the claims is really the best thing that can have happened.

    I’d rather throw out the rules than throw out the transparency. You could just set a maximum amount and let MPs claim for whatever they feel they need to do their job. If the detailed claims are published then we can punish extravagance at the ballot box. Charging for pool cleaning is something of an embarrassment when trying to get re-elected, and the knowledge of this ought to be enough to keep MPs in check. (On the other hand, if that MP’s constituents feel that pool cleaning is a perfectly legitimate expense – then who are we to argue with them?)

    The Lords are the odd ones out here, since we don’t vote them out, but, as noted by Lord Norton, they have a completely different system of expenses anyway and can always be held to account by the Commons.

  10. Bedd Gelert
    13/05/2009 at 2:22 pm

    “There are plenty of ‘they are all at it’ comments on blogs and in the correspondence columns. These comments annoy me intensely, but they reflect a common perception and one that we cannot ignore. ”

    But who are you annoyed WITH, Lord Norton ?? If Parliament has gone to such extraordinary lengths of obfuscation, including hiring m’learned friends, at exorbitant expense to ‘hush-up’ data which Freedom Of Information requests said should be available to the public, whose fault is it if the public leap to the conclusion that ‘they are all at it’ ?

    My heart bleeds for those trying to do good work in the Lords if others are ‘doing a Brussels’ and just turning up and going, but I’m afraid ‘you have made your bed..’ when you accepted the seat in the Lords, and you knew the rules then, and should accept them.

    After all, you have more influence than most people in this country on your ‘terms and conditions’ and your ‘remuneration’.

    And if I hear any more MPs [the Lords have been pretty silent on this..] complaining about the Daily Telegraph, I shall scream !

    Of course, they are going to sensationalise and are not going to be ‘fair and impartial’ – they are a newspaper business !! If you are so worried about being misinterpreted or misrepresented you have had ample opportunity over years and years either to change the system, or to at least publish full details of what has been spent, by whom and when. So don’t come crying to us now.

  11. Dave F
    13/05/2009 at 2:43 pm

    Why a substantial increase in MPs’ salary? They get nearly three times the national average already. Their job nowadays is mainly to rubber-stamp legislation coming from Brussels or to sit twiddling their thumbs while the Government brings in yet another freedom-strangling rule under an Enabling Act that was voted through years ago by robot MPs who just do as they’re told. No wonder they’ve got the time to think up ever more interesting ways to cheat the system.

  12. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 7:50 pm

    Bedd Gelert: I wasn’t complaining about ‘The Daily Telegraph’, and haven’t done so; they are doing what they are entitled to do. It is not the reporting that concerns me so much as the conclusions others draw from it. I can see that MPs may have contributed to the problem by their stance on FoI, but it does not detract from the fact that one should not generalise from the cases of a few. The fact that the Commons did not act sooner to change the rules governing expenses does not detract from the fact that not all MPs are attempting to misuse the system. The issue at the Lords end is, to my mind, different; as far as expenses are concerned, it is a matter of enforcing, and possibly clarifying, the rules. I certainly knew the rules when I arrived and I have stuck to them, not just to the letter but as far as I am concerned the spirit.

    Dave F: MPs, as ‘The Times’ recognises, should be on a par with a GP or headteacher (though the figure they suggest is someway below what I gather a GP now earns) and for a number of reasons. One is the fact that if your constituency is way outside London, you do need to maintain two places to live. The other reason is the actual work associated with the job. The analogy with GPs is a reasonable one. An MP has on average roughly 70,000+ constituents and constituency casework has increased massively decade by decade. Constituency mail floods in (and now e-mails); people come to constituency surgeries with serious problems. MPs can and do achieve some changes for constituents that make a big difference to their lives. They also have to a mass of Westminster work. The volume of public business has increased decade by decade. I’m sorry, but the job of parliamentarians is not simply to rubber-stamp what comes from Brussels. Not only is there a mass of domestic legislation (arguably too much) but there is also an important task in scrutinising those proposals that are being considered in the EU. I have spent part of this afternoon in committee dealing with EU proposals: some are highly detailed and technical. They don’t attract the headlines, but they deserve (and get) considered scrutiny. MPs are far more independent in their voting behaviour now than was previously the case. (Check out revolts.co.uk or, indeed, my own books on the subject!) Loyalty was at its height in the 1950s, not in recent Parliaments. The hours that MPs work each week have increased decade by decade. Some are extremely dedicated and work long hours (70 hours+ a week). It is these points that need making in order to correct the sort of views that you express.

  13. Paul
    13/05/2009 at 8:56 pm

    I personally think they should just increase MPs’ salaries and do away with these so called ‘expenses’. Headteachers and doctors earn more than MPs for starters. It’s doesn’t really surprise me, therefore, that an expenses system for MPs – which in reality has turned into an extra allowance for many – has been allowed to develop over many decades.

    I’d be interested to see some figures on what other parliamentarians around the world earn.

  14. 13/05/2009 at 9:11 pm

    ” These comments [‘they are all at it’] annoy me intensely, but they reflect a common perception and one that we cannot ignore. “

    Sadly this reflects badly on those dedicated hardworking MPs and Lords who do not fiddle the system. However, this was inevitable after the Parliamentary Commissioner for standards, Elizabeth Filkin was ‘eased out’, a few years back, after criticising some expense claims. What was done to support her then, in her work and stop the guilty from getting her removed? Her removal gave the green light to fiddling, it seems, so the annoying comments are unsurprising.

  15. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 9:22 pm

    Paul: Thanks for the comments. There was a useful article in ‘The Times’ yesterday providing some comparative data on MPs’salaries and allowances. UK parliamentarians are paid more than their counterparts in many other European countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe, though I suspect when you factor in the cost of living the relative position will change markedly. In terms of actual amounts paid then, relative to the UK, salaries are particularly generous in Austria (£88,000), the Irish Republic (£84,000), the Netherlands (£75,000) and Germany (£79,000). Compared to what Italian parliamentarians are paid (£126,000), the salaries of British MPs are decidely modest.

  16. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 9:24 pm

    Alfred: In a way your comments make my point, since you appear to be generalising about Parliament on the basis of experience in the Commons.

  17. 13/05/2009 at 9:36 pm

    Only to a point. Am I allowed to say that one of those involved is now in the HOL?

  18. lordnorton
    13/05/2009 at 9:39 pm

    Alfred: Certainly you may, both on grounds of principle (freedom of speech) and convenience (it doesn’t affect the generality of my point).

  19. Croft
    14/05/2009 at 8:53 am

    Lord Norton: With 2.2M unemployed and the largest rise in the recent data since 1971; many in the public/private sector taking an effective, if not actual, pay cut if you’ve got a speech that will convince the red tops and public that MPs deserve a pay rise then can I book tickets now as it’s going to be the greatest parliamentary speech of my life time 😉

    “I am not sure what else one could argue that we had ‘fair warning’ was coming.”

    As mentioned before I do think the Lords has had fair warning about the sign in and leave habit of some peers and the authorities have not sufficiently verified/checked claims about properties being inside/outside London for the overnight allowance.

    On your comparable salaries of course you need personal tax rates were until recently far higher in most of ‘old Europe’.

  20. Dave F
    14/05/2009 at 10:30 am

    Thankyou, Lord Norton, for addressing my comments directly. May I say that the Times may think that MPs should be on a headmaster’s pay scale; I think it’s laughable – how many head teachers can take the time off to be company directors or barristers? Constituency business may have increased over the years, but so have staff. Any good agent should be able to deal with 99% of constituency matters on the MP’s behalf. Besides, most of the problems that people take to their MPs are to do with their inability to get anywhere with our Byzantine civil service – ultimately the responsibility of Parliament. As to scrutiny of European proposals, how many MPs even read the proposed European COnstitution that they voted through? Even ministers have admitted that they did not.
    I have met quite a few MPs, candidates and district and county councillors over the years, mainly in my capacity as musician in the band booked to play at various social functions held by all main political parties at one time or another, and I have discussed various issues with them in casual conversation. Without exception they have all failed to impress. (Indeed, it’s often been very amusing to spend my break talking to a politician who didn’t realise I was a musician, but assumed I was a party member, and spoke unguardedly!) I’m sorry, but my views remain uncorrected.

  21. Bedd Gelert
    14/05/2009 at 10:40 am

    Lord Norton,

    Please understand, I am not saying it is RIGHT to generalise, merely that if the problem were restricted to ‘a few’ i.e. fewer than 4, drawing wider conclusions would be invidious, but that it is HUMAN NATURE to see a problem affecting dozens of MPs are being the rest of the tip of the iceberg starting to come to light.

    My point is that, knowing what human nature is, the Parliamentarians have to be, to coin that phrase, ‘purer than pure’ – and if many have not, then it is no point complaining now that ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus’ draws wider conclusions.

    If you are hoping that people will just think this is a problem in the Commons, the fact that two Lords are facing suspension will just re-inforce the view that ‘they are all at it’. If you don’t like people jumping to that incorrect conclusion the it is up to you to get rid of the ‘rotten apples’ and clear up the systemic problems which currently afflict Parliament.

    I am a big fan of Parliament and am much more ‘pro’ the Lords than many others. But when one hears Andrew George and Lembit Opik giving a sort of ‘how dare you impugn my integrity’ when, prima facie, they look to have done something mis-leading, and only ‘shooting the messenger’, one really despairs that these people have ‘gone native’ and think different rules apply to them than members of the public dealing with the Inland Revenue.

    The fact that they can’t seem to even to take the first step and fire the Speaker, Michael Martin, speaks eloquently to how little appetite, urgency and enthusiasm there is to solve this serious problem for our Parliamentary democracy.

  22. lordnorton
    14/05/2009 at 10:47 am

    Croft: I am acutely aware of the difficulties of implementing the proposal, but of course it is the very reluctance in the past to address it that has led to the present situation. If we never address it head on, then the sort of situation we now have will continue and fester. On the point about those peers who make fleeting appearances, I wasn’t including this in the category of something that was part of the current controversy. The point about verifying claims about main properties was not something of which we had fair warning or, as far as I am aware, any warning. I am not aware of any evidence previously that would have indicated to us that there was a problem.

    DaveF: Many constituency matters can be dealt with by staff but it is the exceptions that are time consuming and which can occupy considerable time on the part of good constituency Members. Constituency casework, not least that generated in constituency surgeries, can be demanding. Scrutiny of European proposals is extensive. This takes us way beyond the Constitutional Treaty and the Lisbon Treaty. The flow of EU documents is extensive and requires thorough parliamentary scrutiny. Unless, of course, you are suggesting that membership of the EU is not such that there is much worth scrutinising.

  23. lordnorton
    14/05/2009 at 10:51 am

    Bedd Gelert: I don’t disagree with what you write. I am sure you are right about human nature and you are cetainy correct in saying that it is up to us to deal with any ‘rotten apples – and to be seen to do so.

    The report of our Privileges Committee has just been published and is to be debated next week.

  24. Croft
    14/05/2009 at 11:25 am

    I’m not sure if the Privileges Committee report is public yet, claims of the content abound: whether that’s a leak I can’t tell.

    Bedd Gelert: Trying to quantify how many bad apples is not really easy. I suspect you’re right and we can split the MPs and some peers into a small number of seemingly obvious breaches of the rules (law), a larger group of those probably technically inside the rules but very problematic claims and an even larger groups who probably wouldn’t have made some claims had they known they would be published. Against that there are certainly a good number who have quite obviously under claimed by any reasonable estimation of the likely costs they must have borne. Perhaps we need a front page in the telegraph on the shining lights in parliament. [I haven’t looked at the peers in detail recently but I seem to remember some very regular attenders who have claimed peanuts]

    I may be wrong but while I think they need a new speaker I think the ‘sacking’ issues is bound up in political calculation. The Tories would rather have it chosen after the election with their (presumably) higher strength, convention dictates Speaker retire immediately and forcing a by election is not what Labour wants…

    Lord Norton: Peers claiming without ‘attending’ in anything but a technical sense would seem just as much of an abuse of the expenses system as any of the other scandals. Obviously the papers are not very interested at the moment as they are spoilt for choice but it’s only a matter of time.

    There have been a number of other allegations against peers is the C on P launching new investigations as I’ve not seen any comments one way or other?

  25. Dave F
    14/05/2009 at 12:06 pm

    Lord Norton: I’m sorry, but you can scrutinise EU proposed legislation all you like, but if you can’t stop it you’re not a legislator. Advisors, lawyers and other civil servants are supposed to subject proposed laws to scrutiny; Members of both Houses are there to decide, so I say again that with so many laws coming from Brussels or through statutory instruments these days there isn’t so much pure legislating to do, and it’s legislating that MPs are paid for.
    People would have more respect for them if they took back the powers they’ve given away. All powers devolved to other organizations – councils, government departments, quangos, even the EU – should be automatically time-limited (say, five years), so they come up for regular review and debate.

  26. lordnorton
    14/05/2009 at 1:44 pm

    Croft: The reports are available. See:
    http://news.parliament.uk/2009/05/lords-report-on-allegations/

    On those who just pop in, I am not sure what methodology one could employ to identify them in a definitive sense. That is the problem.

    DaveF: I do not share your view, which flows from what you write, that Parliament should ignore proposals for EU legislation and just leave it to the European Parliament. Admittedly, there is a mass of UK legislation which it has to discuss and decide on, but it is important that it also examines and seeks to influence what happens in respect of EU legislation. Of course, the Lisbon Treay includes provisions to give a stronger role to national parliaments.

  27. Adrian Kidney
    14/05/2009 at 6:51 pm

    Ironic, isn’t it, that the Lisbon Treaty would have gone some way towards undoing the so-called legislative gap between the EU and national Parliaments, but people reject it because apparently it’s another step towards federalisation?

    Just goes to show many people have no idea what they’re talking about…

  28. Bedd Gelert
    14/05/2009 at 9:10 pm

    On a lighter note, one wonders if there is any way of establishing what the last Lords to be suspended four centuries ago were guilty of ??

    Having their moat cleared of serfs ?

    Duelling in a built-up area ?

    Misfeasance on their second castle allowance ?

    Failing to rescue a damsel in distress during the hours of darkness ?

  29. lordnorton
    14/05/2009 at 10:38 pm

    Adrian Kindney: Just because the Lisbon Treaty seeks to strengthen national parliaments doesn’t mean that the overall effect is not moving in the direction of greater centralisation!

  30. Croft
    15/05/2009 at 8:21 am

    Bedd Gelert: Viscount Saville in 1642 seems to be agreed by all sources as the last case. For opposing Cromwell and supporting Charles I. Without looking I can’t say if it was pure politics or there was anything else behind it.

  31. Bedd Gelert
    15/05/2009 at 8:41 am

    Please read this article by the Freedom Of Information campaigner Heather Brooke in today’s Guardian..

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

    It tells you everything you need to know about how we arrived here.

    My favourite is ‘so the speaker went lawyer..’ – No, actually, I won’t spoil the surprise for you !!

  32. Croft
    15/05/2009 at 12:40 pm

    It points up a serious problem you see in such cases; whenever the government or officialdom fights a case they have the public finances at their disposal and a ‘blank’ cheque. There is no public interest voice there to protect the taxpayers from excessive costs being incurred. If you were fighting a serious matter on legal aid you have to jump more hurdles than the Grand National and still get less legal support 🙁

  33. Senex
    15/05/2009 at 9:41 pm

    Lord Norton: What did Abraham Lincoln never say but wished he had:

    You can fiddle your expenses some of the time, you can fiddle your expenses most of the time but you cannot fiddle your expenses all of the time.

    It is HMRC that endeavours to stop us fiddling our expenses especially if you are a company director. Directors receive very special punitive attention from HMRC because they have access to, and control of, company earnings before tax.

    I think MPs of all parties should stop beating themselves up about expenses because the real culprit or the one that has allowed the situation to develop is the Treasury or more specifically HMRC. It is an amoral Treasury that has brought Parliament down.

    There is anecdotal evidence that employees within HMRC have been aware for some time of issues now thrown up in the face of MPs but they have been told to put up and shut up.

    Ref: Standards in Public Life – MP’s Expenses
    http://www.public-standards.gov.uk/OurWork/MPs__Expenses___Have_your_say.html
    Short shrift for tax underling’s attack on MPs
    http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/columnists/article6282998.ece

  34. 16/05/2009 at 11:45 am

    To my mind the problem with the expenses scandal is actually overshadowing a far greater scandal in the Lords – that of actual corruption of the legislative process.

    Lords Taylor and Truscott’s suspension is woefully lenient what what amounts to a serious breach of the law, but the newspapers are distracted by the drip-drip of juicy commons-based scandals, some of which are serious but some of which are problems of appearance rather than serious corruption.

  35. lordnorton
    16/05/2009 at 12:53 pm

    McDuff: Because ‘The Sunday Times’ ran the story on the basis of conversations with the peers concerned – in other words, relying on words spoken and not acts performed (no money changed hands, no contracts signed) – the House is having to take a decision on the basis of what those concerned said they would be willing to do rather than what they did. It cannot be proved that they would actually have done what they said they would be prepared to do. It is not clear therefore what ‘serious breach of the law’ you think is engaged.

  36. Senex
    16/05/2009 at 7:27 pm

    Lord Norton: If one entertains the notion that the Treasury or HMRC has failed Parliament by lack of oversight with MP expenses then it must be pointed out that HMRC has acted entirely properly and within its remit under law.

    However, the BBC link below demonstrates that HMRC has no duty of care to the taxpayer and any action brought against HMRC would be most likely to fail. The public have tax representation through the Commons but who represents MPs, Peers or the Monarchy for tax purposes? If MPs ever needed tax representation, that time is now.

    There is something quite odd about a House of Commons that piles colossal debt upon taxpayers as a prelude to collecting monies from them without the collecting agency having a legal duty of care to the taxpayer. What is even more odd is that this wealth, that the Commons avails itself of, comes not from the landed gentry, aristocracy or business but from the general public.

    HMRC’s vision document openly states that it will be relentless in pursuing those who bend or break the rules. The public will expect HMRC to hold to its word but in doing so it will drag the reputation of Parliament through the gutter. What can or should we expect the House of Lords to do about any of this?

    It is regrettable that MPs cannot launch a class action against HMRC for negligence.

    Ref: BBC; Solicitor blasts ‘immune’ taxmen, Sept 2006
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cumbria/5389806.stm
    HMRC – Delivering our Vision 2009-2010, Page 4, Our way
    http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/about/business-plan.pdf
    Compliance: Don’t Dread the Brown Envelope
    http://www.tax.org.uk/attach.pl/7997/9436/025-026_TA_0409_Compliance.pdf

  37. Craig
    17/05/2009 at 9:11 pm

    Whilst an allowance is paid to Councillors regardless of attendance, it should be remembered that the ‘basic allowance’ received by most Councillors is substantially lower than the total amount that can be claimed by Peers. The attendance and other allowances paid to Peers are also not taxed, whereas Councillors allowances are.

    Peers are remunerated for each day they attend whereas a proportion of the work carried out by Councillors is assumed as being voluntary and therefore is not remunerated.

    The Council I serve on takes recess during August, yet Peers have a much longer period of recess. Whilst I appreciate that many Peers do much more work than turning up to parliament, so do Councillors. Councillors don’t just attend the odd meeting, as it is often perceived. Unlike Peers, Councillors are democratically elected and have constituents to serve. This often means evenings and weekends working, handling casework and speaking with residents. A Councillors allowance is expected to cover postage, stationary, phone bills and other costs. Since I was elected I have claimed no expenses for travel or subsistence and there are strict rules governing when I can claim expenses for them. On the occasions I have had an opportunity to claim, I have so far declined to do so.

    I’m not trying to make it seem that Councillors are hard done by but I do object to comments such as “allowances are paid automatically to councillors regardless of attendance (peers have to attend in order to be able to claim) and councillors do not incur costs of having to stay overnight” which imply that Peers are hard done by.

    Councillors do incur considerable costs in carrying out their duties. I regard the work I do as valuable and also hope that it makes a valuable contribution in improving the quality of life of people in the city and area that I represent.

  38. lordnorton
    17/05/2009 at 11:09 pm

    Craig: I wasn’t criticising councils but rather drawing attention to the fact that there were similarities between councillors’ and peers’ allowances, albeit with the differences I mentioned. There are other similarities. Councils also determine the allowances of their members (albeit having to have regard to the recommendations of an independent panel, which they can, and sometimes do, ignore) and rises in councillors’ allowances have been the subject of recent media criticism:

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/8017582.stm

    In terms of differences, it is correct that our allowances are not taxed (I favour a fixed taxable allowance) but we do not have provision for creating posts that attract additional allowances: committee chairs, for example, receive no additional remuneration.

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