Pay, Expenses and Self Regulation

Lord Soley

The announcement of an end to the self regulating gentleman’s club that has characterised Parliament was welcome news to my ears! I have been arguing for an independent body to set pay and expenses for MP’s and Pees for some years and we have taken a significant step towards that.

I have a history on this. When I was chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party I faced annual elections. I had no challengers until Betty Boothroyd retired as Speaker of the House. I told Michael Martin I would not vote for him because he was not committed to modernising the House. I voted for the Conservative George Young instead. Voting for an Eton educated Baronet instead of a Glasgow sheet metal worker was not my best career move! I survived by just 7 votes.

I think recent events have justified my action. I had nothing against Michael Martin personally and he never bore me any grudge but he was a block on reform and the Speaker can radically change Parliament. I think the opportunities are even greater now that we have a Speaker in the Lords who is interested in reform. We are not there yet but we are on the way!

10 comments for “Pay, Expenses and Self Regulation

  1. Adrian Kidney
    21/05/2009 at 7:57 am

    It is to your credit that you favoured Sir George, Lord Soley. I hope it brings a valuable lesson that judging someone based on their class (whether upper, middle or lower) isn’t really fair!

  2. Tory Boy
    21/05/2009 at 9:01 am

    I think the powers and role of the lord’s speaker could do with some post legislative scrutiny. I think the lords speaker should have more power particularly to call people at question time in the lords as at the moment it looks like organised chaos. Plus some of the questions are far too long and wide of the question on the order paper.

  3. Tim
    21/05/2009 at 10:25 am

    In the light of the scandal over MPs’ expenses, why not scrap the scheme and offer all MPs London accommodation in armed forces’ barracks?

    The aims are to save money, create jobs, fight corruption and improve the standard of accommodation available to our armed forces.
    Barracks should offer a good quality of secure accommodation – this is equally suitable to forces personnel or Members of Parliament.

    However, describing a visit to Wellington Barracks in the summer of 2008, Baroness Sharples is recorded in Hansard (8th October 2008) as stating to the House of Lords “…[we] were quite appalled at the conditions we found there”.

    If MPs were to live in these barracks, we could all be sure that they would be brought up to a high standard very promptly.

    The money that MPs currently squander on private accommodation via their expenses could be spent on improvements to barracks instead, thereby creating jobs for builders, joiners, plumbers, electricians, plasterers, roofers and decorators.

    With a bit of thought, this could even be used to create a building trades training / apprenticeship scheme to bring some good out of this whole mess.

  4. 21/05/2009 at 10:41 am

    I am very much in favour of reform, but I oppose an independent body determining pay and expenses. Frankly, my impression is that the vast bulk of MPs have hardly had an opportunity for self-regulation yet (other than of themselves as individuals), and certainly not self-regulation in a transparent system. Otherwise why are the daily revelations a surprise to other members at Westminster?

    My query is two-fold:

    Firstly, how are persons who appear unable to govern themselves to justify their government of the remainder of the realm?

    Secondly, whereas MPs can in the final analysis be elected or otherwise by their constituents, how is this ‘independent’ body to be held accountable to the public?

    There are some elements of knee-jerk reaction in what is going on. While I’m as unhappy as anyone else at the revelations, it is quite unreasonable to expect a new MP to arrive from the provinces at Westminster with no allowance whatsoever for furniture, for example.

  5. 21/05/2009 at 11:46 am

    Wonderful to see this being discussed.

    Central to how MPs’ conduct is regulated going forward is the question of how to regain the trust and faith of UK citizens.

    Trust should increase the more MPs are perceived to be conducting their affairs not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the citizens. Experience suggests that only regulatory solutions that involve a wide group of citizens are likely to enable that dynamic to occur. Similar observations were made in a recent lecture by Professor Jonathan Zittrain, which I covered here:

    In essence, MPs must not hide behind “an independent regulator”, but submit their affairs to a far more open and transparent process of the kind we see operating on many web-based platforms today.

  6. Croft
    21/05/2009 at 12:11 pm

    Do you think George Young would have been a reforming speaker – or that this crisis having occurred he would have handled it substantially differently. I’ve never heard a bad word said against him but a natural reformer?

    Under the ‘Sir Alec Douglas-Home Memorial rules’ the new speaker is likely to be no ones first choice but someone everyone can tolerate. Though judging by the comments sections of the house seem almost determined to back candidates to annoy other sections.

  7. ladytizzy
    21/05/2009 at 8:40 pm

    Are there sound reasons to continue having an elected MP as the Speaker?

    Does this mean more or less representation for the Speaker’s constituents?

    I have been arguing for an independent body to set pay and expenses for MP’s and Pees…

    Yes, we are all in urgent need.

    Shame on you, Croft, for missing that open goal!

  8. Tio
    21/05/2009 at 9:32 pm

    Michael Martin is the first major victim of the expenses scandal because he was, in part, overseeing, and, in part, benefiting from it.

    MPs are looking for a scapegoat for their own gluttony, which shows how worried they are.

    The Westminster consensus – that profit is good – has left them feathering their nests while lecturing the rest of us on tightening our belts.

    The crisis at the heart of the political system runs deep because it is symbolic of the lack of legitimacy of the “mother of parliaments”.

    This is not just about the stench of corruption as politicians have handed more and more control over to business.

    It is shining a light on the reality of democracy in our system.

    Real democracy is about having control over our lives and a real say about what happens in society.

    Even in its ideal form, parliamentary democracy is a pale shadow of that.

    The perks and the second homes are simply the tips the loyal politicians take as part of running the system – not in the interests of all as they claim, but in the interests of the rich.

    Standing out against the sewer of sleaze running through parliament means not simply dumping one or two crooks but fighting for real democracy.

  9. Clive Soley
    22/05/2009 at 8:56 am

    This is a hasty response as I will not be able to post for a few days after this.

    Parliament is sovereign so it could always change an independent system – would anyone want to after this?!

    The problem started forty or more years ago when successive governments ducked the pay issue – it’s always too embarrassing to put up MP’s pay. Expenses became the soft option. That’s an explanation NOT an excuse

    I think all MP’s are so ashamed by this that they will elect a reforming Speaker and that should help a lot.

    Sorry about the rush!

  10. 22/05/2009 at 11:30 am

    I remember Harold Wilson raising MPs pay more or less the day after a General Election, saying that there was never a right time to do it. Politically, of course, it is the right time to do it as the optimum number of days with the optimum number of issues then occur before the following General Election, by which time the event’s forgotten. Clever lad, ‘our ‘arold’ as he was known in Huyton.

    To be perfectly fair about this, pressure to keep down one’s pay in fear of sparking a public sector pay uprising is an occupational hazard of being a parliamentarian. But you’re not alone, think of the moral dilemmas facing nurses and other carers in their pay battles, when governments are often seen as ‘the enemy’.

    I think UK MPs are poorly aid compared to legislatures of other advanced European nations, but if you want to do anything about it at present you’d best make friends with Douglas Hogg, as someone with a moat and a drawbridge could prove a good deal more valuable than he’s hitherto been portrayed in this saga!

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