The Parliamentary Standards Bill was put together in haste in an attempt to address public anger over parliamentarians’ use of expenses. It seeks to set up an independent agency to administer MPs’ pay and allowances, and establishes a commissioner to conduct investigations.
The problem with the Bill is that it does not get to the root of the problem. There will still be an allowance scheme for MPs. Public anger was directed not just at mis-use of allowances but at the very fact of allowances. MPs will still get money to cover such things as mortgages and furniture. Furthermore, the Bill raises important constitutional issues, since it embodies in statute various requirements that could lead to judicial review and a clash between Parliament and the courts.
The Bill was rushed in its preparation and pushed through the Commons in three days. As the constitutional ramifications became more apparent, the Government agreed to the removal of one clause. Another was removed by a vote of the House. There was not time to consider the consequences. This is being left to the Lords.
However, the front benches in the Lords have agreed to expedite passage of the Bill and set aside the normal gaps between the stages of a Bill. I very much object to this. There is no clear case to rush through a Bill which has constitutional implications, has been hurriedly put together, and which has not been subject to consultations, be it within Government or with people outside. It is also not clear why the Bill should be rushed, given that the Committee on Standards in Public Life will report in the autumn and may make recommendations at odds with the provisions of the Bill. Given that the party leaders have agreed in advance to accept what the committee recommends, this could lend itself to an almighty mess.
The Constitution Committee, on which I serve, has issued a report on the Bill, forcibly making the point that the Bill should not be fast-tracked.
How then to prevent it being fast-tracked? After the Bill is given a Second Reading, the Leader of the House moves that the Bill be committed to a committee of the whole House. I have now tabled an amendment to provide that the committee shall not meet until fourteen days from the date of Second Reading, in accordance with the House’s recommended minimum intervals between the stages of Bills. The Government object to this because it means the Bill will not complete its passage before the summer recess.
The Bill is being debated on Second Reading tomorrow (Wednesday). I have had members approach me to express support for my amendment, including some on both sides who have held senior office. It should be an interesting debate.