Protecting privacy

Lord Norton

_45949300_expensesmps226in_paProtecting individual privacy is, to my mind, fundamental to a free society.  Without privacy and the opportunity to have personal possessions, the state is all powerful.  Too often, we allow the public sphere to expand, eroding personal privacy and hence freedom.

There is a balance to be drawn between the public and private, between the state’s right to interfere and the individual’s right to be left alone, as well as between the freedom of the press and the right to privacy.   What is in the public interest is not the same as what interests the public.   We are in danger of getting the balance out of kilter.

One recent example of what amounts to a casual erosion of privacy is to be found in the decision of the House of Commons to require MPs who have other jobs to declare how much they earn from them and how much time they devote to them.  This has been justified on the grounds that constituents have a right to know what their MP is earning in addition to their MPs’ salaries.  This is offered as if it self-evidently true.  It is no such thing.  It is complete nonsense.  There is an argument that MPs should not have second jobs, but that is a separate argument.  So long as they are able to take on second jobs, then – if there is no conflict of interest – the income is a private matter.  Even if constituents had a right to know, there is no way of confining the information to constituents: it becomes a matter of public record.  Why?  The job of an MP may be full-time in employment terms but not in a literal sense.  The MP is not paid to be on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  Each MP is entitled to time of their own.  Whether they give that time to being with the family, taking on other work (as a dentist, special constable, member of the TA), pursuing sport, or relaxing is a matter for them.  It is not for the state to tell them what to do with that time nor to require them to reveal what they earn that is unrelated to their service as an MP.   If the MP is not able to do the work expected of them by constituents, there are mechanisms in place for dealing with the matter: the local party, the scrutiny of one’s political opponents, and the prospect of being denied re-election. 

We need to be far more vigilant in the protection of privacy.  I know there is the argument that requiring MPs to declare second jobs, the hours worked and the income derived will discourage some people from standing for Parliament and is already resulting in some MPs deciding not to seek re-election.  That is an important argument but to my mind is secondary to the important principle involved.  If an MP has an income that does not derive from the fact they are an MP, the Inland Revenue has a right to know what it is.  No one else does.

43 comments for “Protecting privacy

  1. Frank Wynerth Summer
    04/08/2009 at 4:47 pm

    Eric Arthur Blair, a thoroughgoing lefty who believed in a moreegalitarian distribution of wealth than most people in the modern world has done a fine job of expounding on the dangers of the destruction of privacy. His novel 1984 is surely emotionaly powerful for young people because it is so largely authentic in the issues it deals with and and inthe feelings it evokes despite its fictional world. CS Lewis’s work That Hideous Strength also pits a private home, odd private friends, families and titles against the cosmic forces of evil and allies them with the Gods and God. Sir Thomas More is a sort of supermartyr for the Private conscience who was akind of national and international rockstar even though executed by the government. The Romantic poets wandering around the Lake District and claiming to be the legislators of the world were certainly not looking a seamless superstate. Without the East Indies Company, the Virginia Company, Lloyd’s, Barclay’s, the merchant bankers of the City, corsairs and Tai Pan families what exactly does the British Era amount to?

    I actually do have a point here. Each polity and society does some things better than others. Each contributes something stamped by its character to the world. I do think that like any polity the UK must evolve and privacy is certainly used for ill as well as good. But the love of privacy is a very British trait and virtue. I think if the Chinese decided to seriously pursue a policy of becoming habitually lazy and rudely boisterous as a society it would be more than bad policy and stupidity it would be nearly incomprehensible. I believe a long and enthusiastic campaign for a fully public Britain is very much like a national campagin for left thumb removal or right eye-gouging. This soes not all go to the bill you are discussing this is just the observation of a person of Anglo-Acadian heritage living in the United States about waht seems British and what is at risk.

  2. Croft
    04/08/2009 at 5:06 pm

    Lord Norton,

    You say a ‘balance (is) to be drawn between…freedom of the press and the right to privacy’. I have wondered if some copies of the ECHR have accidentally missed off Article X as it seems to have gone awol in recent judgements where article VIII is invoked!!

    It’s hard to argue that MPs shouldn’t disclose the time spent and the source of employment to avoid conflicts of interest in time or influence. While I’m fairly sympathetic to the actual amount being undisclosed I’m not sure how real this privacy is. If I know an MP is a barrister, private doctor or a company director then fellow professionals, company accounts and other sources will generally allow much of the pay detail to be worked out anyway. The different then is that those in the know will have the ‘information’ and the general public won’t. Unless of course a paper does some digging and then we risk possible injunctions, article VIII arguments and the possibility that the paper might have to wait months even if it is allowed to run a story.

  3. Bedd Gelert
    04/08/2009 at 5:56 pm

    Absolute rubbish !!!

    If people in the House really were ‘honourable members’ that might mean something.

    But as recent events have shown, their assurances aren’t worth the paper they’re written on.

  4. lordnorton
    04/08/2009 at 6:12 pm

    Frank Wynerth Summer: Thanks for the observations. The emphasis on privacy is notable in the UK and, I think, rightly so.

    Croft: I don’t agree at all about Article X; the courts still strive to protect freedom of expression. On your second paragraph, that is not an argument for further undermining privacy but rather for tightening up on what private data are released. We are becoming far too sloppy about the release of personal data.

    Bedd Gelert: I take the issue of principle involved rather strongly, so I don’t really see what relevance your point has. It reflects the sort of woolly, not to say mindless thinking that seems all too prevalent at the moment.

    • Croft
      05/08/2009 at 10:54 am

      I’m not sure which cases you have been following but the balance between privacy and the free press has quite markedly shifted in recent years. Can a newspaper afford to fight a privacy injunction (irrespective of the result) can decide stories for smaller papers on time/cost grounds alone.

      I don’t follow your second comment at all. Unless you are saying that an MP/Peer be allowed to hide their employer details, their hours worked and that official company accounts are no longer made public (or redacted) then my point stands unanswered. Those in the know will have a reasonable idea of the pay/income involved – the public won’t.

      ladytizzy: I perfectly agree re dvla. However I’d place a small bet that parliament is more likely to protect/hide MPs/Peers interests and private data than the public’s. When the citizen’s data is sold to the highest bidder special pleading for MPs is likely only to provoke continued anger. MPs (though not peers until the upcoming law changes) do have a choice in the profession they have chosen knowing they are held to a higher standard of disclose than other citizens. The public has no such choice.

      Baronessmurphy: If the salary is not at least banded (even very broadly) how do you distinguish people on a peppercorn fee for contractual reasons where the potential conflict of interest is minuscule from someone who gains an absolute majority of their income from a job. The amount earned can be the core of the conflict of interest.

      If the expenses scandal proved anything it was exactly those categories that were redacted from the official publication on ‘privacy’ grounds were those that hid the most shocking abuses. The argument used for those redactions is essentially being resurrected here for pay.

      • lordnorton
        05/08/2009 at 2:25 pm

        Croft: The balance has only tipped marginally, though it may appear otherwise from some coverage in the press. The guidance produced by Lord Woolf as Lord Chief Justice, in A v B and C, indicated a strong presumption in favour of publication, particularly in relation to public figures. The problem is not just one of determining the dividing line but also one of cost. Public figures are not all wealthy people. The only people able to pursue a case in relation to the media, especially the national press, are usually those of independent means. The only realistic recourse for anyone else is the Press Complaints Commission, which lacks statutory teeth.

        Being able to work out a particular pay band or range is not the same as knowing how much a person is paid. I am not in favour of MPs having to say what hours they put into work which does not derive from their role as an MP and does not impinge on their work as an MP.

        The income I am referring to is not public money and therefore the considerations that apply to MPs’ pay and expenses do not apply.

      • Croft
        05/08/2009 at 4:01 pm

        The point made by the press (local in particular) but even the broadsheets is the cost of fighting an action is now so high and the growing tendency of the courts to injunct a breaking story first then access the merits means that they never see a court. As to costs, that they have been allowed to spiral out of control is very much at parliament’s door. They have been ignoring this issue for decades now and even with the recent select committee hearings I don’t see a great deal of political will to change things.

        ‘I am not in favour of MPs having to say what hours they put into work which does not derive from their role as an MP and does not impinge on their work as an MP

        And how is the constituent supposed to know if their MP can’t/won’t help them because they are too busy with other more important constituent cases as opposed to spending too many hours on their private financial interests?

  5. Senex
    04/08/2009 at 7:45 pm

    Lord Norton: Your whinging!

    “What is in the public interest is not the same as what interests the public. We are in danger of getting the balance out of kilter.” I agree entirely!

    Privacy is relevant but if you are wealthy enough you can decline your salary and waive expenses. Transparency would not then be a concern except for other employments.

    “If an MP has an income that does not derive from the fact they are an MP, the Inland Revenue has a right to know what it is. No one else does.”

    There you have it! It is the Treasury that runs the country. It is not accountable to democracy, it has no duty of care to the taxpayer and it is not transparent; its grip is so tight that it chokes the very life out of the nation. Who made this so the Commons.

    Who stood by whilst it happened? The House of Lords!

    Sorry, but its payback time by the public.

  6. Troika21
    04/08/2009 at 8:46 pm

    Lord Norton, is the ‘woolly’ and ‘mindless’ thinking comming from the public or the Parliament in this case, I’ve seen no calls for this to happen from papers (have I missed them?) or blogs.
    Why do you think that MPs think that this is a good idea?

    I don’t like the idea of professional politicians as a solution, I think that most of the problems with democracy happen when it becomes a career.

    I mean, why should voting be considdered a civic duty, if being an MP is a job?

  7. B
    04/08/2009 at 8:57 pm

    It is hard to have sympathy for the plight of the poor MP’s when they have brought them selves into such thorough discredit after the expenses scandal. Still I admit that doesn’t address the principles that are in play, its just a knee jerk response to recent events.

    That said, I wonder if there is not an argument of the following sort available. Given the influence that MPs have to shape policy and given that the position itself is one that forces compromise. There is at least a prima facie case for their scrutiny. When we also note that historically MP corruption causes a substantial harm in the form of lost faith in government and has been particulalurty resistant to scrutiny, this may justify an effort to closely examine their finances. Release of tax records, then, seems like the place to start.

    It isn’t the best argument, to be sure, but I wonder if the liberal precedents that would support privacy have not already been eroded by the government to the point that such a proposal is difficult to oppose. After all collecting one’s DNA with no apparent justification in the particular case, on the grounds that it is useful to secure more arrests in future -seems to present a far more intrusive kind of collection coupled to a far vaguer good that will be realized by the policy. If the government can justify that sort of thing, it is just hard to see what the principle is that speaks to the MP case but not DNA collection. I mean, the principles strong enough to prohibit both just don’t seem to be a part of British law any more.

    Actually, maybe that supplies a better argument for MP disclosure. By being forced to undergo some small indignity in the form of a sacrifice of their privacy, MPs might be more willing to articulate principles that would end that as well as the other erosions of privacy that the public has now had to endure for quite some time. Because the color of authority MPs wear protects them from the more prosaic indignities, it is only specific legislation that can break through their insulation and so bring about some identification with the proletariat.

    Still not a great argument but it does have a certain fittingness to it.

  8. Baker
    04/08/2009 at 9:41 pm

    I have no interest in knowing what MPs earn or how they spend their time, and I
    don’t think the public has a right to know either of these things as an end in themselves.

    Where I think we differ is that I don’t see much space between the existence of additional sources of income and potential conflicts of interest. I think the public has a right to know who (else) is paying MPs and how much. I think it’s all relevant for us to know where MPs are coming from regardless of how insignificant the payment or unrelated the work may seem.

    Transparency is the new objectivity for journalists and I hope for politicians as well:

  9. 04/08/2009 at 11:45 pm

    I’m in two minds about this. On one hand, I take Lord Norton’s point about privacy. But on the other, MPs are paid with public money to serve the public. If I write to my MP and don’t receive a reply, I would assume in good faith that he has been inundated with letters, many of which are more important than mine, so doesn’t have time to reply. However, my opinion would change if I discovered he is actually earning as much again in a second job, meaning not enough time to reply to correspondence.

    I actually checked what my employer’s guidelines are. The only external work we are supposed to declare is when it’s done within working hours (of course); or when it is in our own time but related to our position or employment with the employer. I wonder how many MPs’ second jobs are obtained off the back of being an MP. Surely there is a case for declaring these? Maybe if coupled with timesheets or clocking of hours worked as an MP (which would also open the public’s eyes to the long hours many MPs work) we needn’t worry about what unrelated work MPs do in their spare time.

  10. 04/08/2009 at 11:57 pm

    The gvt, and to a greater or lesser degree, MPs, are to blame for the mixed messages coming out with regard to personal privacy.

    They allowed our legally required yet private details to be sold to anyone with enough dosh via DVLC, and the default electoral roll. But there are much more confusing situations. For example:

    What is the purpose of revealing the identity of defendants (or criminals for that matter)? Should the names of sex offenders be given out to lay people, or anyone, after they have served their sentence? Should child criminals be afforded new identities after serving their time?

    The situation becomes further muddied when discrimination laws are applied; an employer may not know the age of an applicant but must ensure the correct level of minimum wage be given, once the applicant is successful. This is peculiar.

    I am fractionally more interested in knowing the identity of the Stig over who is interfering with the bursar, or his daughter, but that is not the point. Because this gvt insists on micro-managing how we live, I am not surprised at the backlash of people wanting to pry into MP’s lives.

  11. Anon
    05/08/2009 at 1:15 am

    Personally, I think it would be interesting to see whether there is a link between MPs who have outside jobs and their voting record.

    I haven’t quite made up my mind on this issue, though. It is tricky and I accept your wider point about personal data. With recent goings on in Westminster, though, I think the move towards publishing further details about hours worked on second jobs was somewhat inevitable.

    Clearly, having a second job such as a dentist or GP can compliment your role as an MP. I do, however, worry greatly about certain MPs who hold large numbers of outside interests (six or seven in some cases) and/or devote a large proportion of their working hours each week to a second job(s).

    I am in no doubt about your own committment to Parliament and your work as an academic at Hull. I know i speak for many when i say you are a fine example of someone who successfully manages to combine the two. If you had six of seven roles, though, would you really feel like you could do the job as a Peer justice?

    On the specific matter of how much MPs actually earn on their outside interests, I agree with you that this should remain private.

    It’s quite hard to condense my thoughts on here but I have done my best!

  12. Nick
    05/08/2009 at 3:04 am

    And at the same time, your patrons in the Commons are planning on putting CCTV cameras in people’s homes because of possible crimes.

    Strikes me that we should do the same with MPs and lords.

    Take for example, Bercow. Apparently, the decor in Gorbal Mick’s appartment isn’t to his taste. We’re going to be screwed for 20,000 to fix it.

    Where’s the monitoring and supervision from the Lords? None will come forth, as usual. Can’t jeapordise the patron can we?

    With a little bit of light, we’ve seen the level of crime committed by politicians, and we need more light on what you’re up to.

    CCTV cameras in your offices and homes. Taps on your phones, open up your bank accounts and taxes, all placed on the web.

    After all, if its good for us, its got to be better for you.


  13. Baronessmurphy
    05/08/2009 at 7:43 am

    Lord Norton, Can I come in here? My own position is that I think the public do have a right to know how many and what jobs an MP has and what time he has available for parliament and constituency, but not how much money he makes. His/her pay should be determined as if being an MP is a full time job; it’s up to constituents to decide if other work and responsibilities will prevent him from fulfilling his commitments. There are clearly many people in parliament with private income from investments which again are no business of anyone else. It’s time and energy for parliament which should be the public’s concern, not how much they have in the bank or get paid.

  14. lordnorton
    05/08/2009 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for some very interesting, and stimulating, comments. I have enjoyed reading them and spent some time reflecting on some of the issues raised.

    Senex: I am sure I can whinge as well as anyone else, but here I was raising what I consider to be a largely neglected issue of principle. I’m afraid I don’t see the relevance of your first point, unless you are suggesting that if someone is wealthy enough they should not accept the salary for a particular post. That raises all sorts of problems and is not an argument I would accept. On your second point, you appear to confuse the role of the Treasury in influencing public policy with the role of the Inland Revenue as a tax-collecting body. They are very different.

    Troika21: That’s a very good question. I had in mind the attitude towards MPs and expenses and the tendency to generalise about all from only part of a population. I think there is a tendency to assume that all MPs are tainted and that therefore they are fair game for any limitation, however lacking in justification such a limitation may be. You raise a fair point as to the motivation for this particular move. It is not clear there is a public demand for it, though in present circumstances there may not be a tendency for the public to be roused in opposition. I am intrigued by your last observation and question. I can see the argument that politics should not be a profession (as opposed, of course, to the study of it), but why should it not be a civic duty to vote to select the person to represent you, regardless of whether undertaking that task of representation is seen as a career, a job or a voluntary contribution to public life?

    B: Your opening paragraph neatly encapsulates the conundrum. I can see the force of the argument you advance. I would start from the other end of the argument, namely that we should be cracking down on the gradual erosion of privacy that you identify. I can see the logic of your conclusion, though: it’s certainly a novel one. Perhaps we can get some good to come out of this by persuading MPs that, by such indignity, they should be more alert to incursions into privacy. However, given that the House has supported the move, I would not (regrettably) be overly confident.

    Baker: I would make a distinction between knowing what else MPs do and what they are paid for doing it. I accept that for the purposes of avoiding conflicts of interest, Members should make clear their other interests. I don’t see any justification for knowing what they are paid in those instances where there work is unrelated to the fact that they are MPs. If it is related (working as a parliamentary adviser, for example) that is different. This was the distinction that was previously maintained and I felt struck an acceptable balance. The late Enoch Powell would not have agreed, but he was far more of a purist than I am.

    Jonathan: I take your point about the work of a Member. However, the important point in the case you cite is, to my mind, the fact that they are not doing the job expected of them. This may be because they are lazy or disinterested, or have other interests which are unpaid, or because they are actually doing other paid work. They should be judged on the work they do as an MP. If they are not up to the job – for whatevever reason – then they should be replaced by someone who is. I certainly accept, as has been the case for some time, that Members must declare what work they do (and indicate the range of income) that derives from the fact that they are MPs. I am concerned solely with work that is clearly unrelated (e.g. working as a dentist part of a weekend). Your last point I think is a cogent one and compatible with my opening comments in response to yours. There is some data on the hours worked by MPs – well in excess of a normal working week – and if there could be a more formal method of identifying the hours worked, that would be helpful. It is an issue that I am presently giving some thought to in relation to the Lords and some of the criticisms presently being made of members who simply clock-in and leave.

    ladytizzy: I take your point entirely. We need to be addressing issues such as those you raise. We certainly have not got the balance right. This is not just a point of academic debate but something that affects people’s lives and in some cases ruins them.

    Anon: Thanks for your comments (and indeed compliment – much appreciated). I take your point about multiple jobs. As you indicate, the key point is not the income but the time consumed by those activities. If an MP is not able to fulfil the time necessary to fulfil the tasks expected of a Member, they should not be doing the job. I think Jonathan’s observation is relevant: the most pertinent information for constituents is knowing what MPs are actually doing to fulfil their responsibilities. If they knew that, as well as what other posts Members hold, they can make an informed judgement. A lazy MP with no outside responsibilities may be doing a less effective job than those who devote themselves assiduously to constituency work while also fulfilling some outside work. A lot depends on the commitment of the individual. Some are prepared to forego a private life in order to fulfil a vocation or to pursue more than one commitment.

    Baroness Murphy: I very much agree. As I have indicated above, the vital thing is that an MP fulfils the work expected of an MP and does effectively. The salary and resources are there to do so. What is perhaps ironic in present circumstances is that MPs are now far more constituency active than ever before.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  15. Anne Palmer
    05/08/2009 at 11:38 am

    Lord Norton, I am going to surprise you by agreeing with much of what you have written. I had to have two jobs from the age of fourteen otherwise I would have starved to death, although what I did, did not affect 70 million people.

    The high regard I once mistakenly had for all those that sit within those hallowed hall has gone. Particularly so in the House of Commons where the present Government so eagerly ratified the Treaty of Lisbon.

    As I see it, this is the present position we are in, and I am sure you could fill in the gaps if you so wished. Before 1972 we had one Parliament that instigated all our laws.
    Today we have a Full compliment of ‘staff’ in both Houses of Parliament STILL, that according to some only instigate about 75% of our laws now. Should the Treaty of Lisbon become activated, we may STILL have a Full Compliment of ‘staff’ but what will be left for them to do?

    We now have a New Supreme Court which cost ??? and what will it cost to run? Yet the Law Lords will still be doing exactly the same work as they did when they were lodged in the House of Lords. We have a Parliament in Scotland which cost ??? to build and what is the running cost there? A Northern Ireland Parliament and an Assembly in Wales, ditto! Yet these are really, as far as the EU is concerned, Regions of the EU. What are their running costs?
    And then there are also the rest of the Regional Assemblies costs of etc.

    Yet all of these do not and cannot instigate our laws because our main laws are instigated by the European Union, and transposed into British law. (We are being ruled by foreigners, which we went to war in 1939 to prevent) Which does not disguise the fact that, that all this is contrary to and in conflict with our own Common Law Constitution. That is without our financial “Contributions” to the EU and without the slice of around 2.5 billion from our VAT each year that goes to it (Bring back Purchase tax) and without the extra costs that obeying EU legislation brings with it. The treacherous dummying down of our forces and defences to fit in with the EU ESDP is something else. We simply cannot afford to remain in the EU and continue to pay for MP’s that can no longer govern. They know that are we are beginning to see that for ourselves now. Not one MP that has brought all this about should be elected or if they have any integrity left at all, they should not even STAND. IF there is another general election I will be voting for my country and not for anyone that has taken advatage of their expenses all be it, that it was all within the rules.

    What our Noble Lords, Ladies, MP’s and Government have done, they have “protected themselves” very recently again using the Common Law Bill of Rights Article 1X in the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 in which the first entry in the Act at number 1 reads, The Bill of Rights. “Nothing in this Act shall be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689”. That act in the Bill of Rights 1689 is here, Section 1: Bill of Rights. Provides that nothing in the Act should be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting parliamentary privilege, as set out in Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689. Article IX provides “that the freedom of speech and debates in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament”. This section is to remove any doubt about whether any provision in the Act affects Article IX. End of quote

    What all might be forgetting however, is that they have ratified a Treaty which allows the EU to have “competence over Member States Constitution and laws”. Now does that apply just to the common people or is does it include our Parliamentarians? How come they have ignored our Constitution when it suits THEM but use it when it does suit THEM? Will there be any need for either Houses of Parliament if ever the EU Regions are in full flow here in the UK. Will their self preserving Act remain in tact once the EU has its constitutional Treaties in full flow? Perhaps another question is, can the people afford to continue paying for a Government that has to obey the same laws as the rest of us?

  16. Kyle Mulholland
    05/08/2009 at 11:54 am

    When one enters public office, one ought to declare their earnings to their constituents. In fact, I would suggest that MPs’ income tax returns be publicly published. Then, MPs might not make so many claims. If we found out that the rumour that David Cameron has 30 million quid in the bank, we might think perhaps it would be morally wrong for him to claim thousands in expenses from the taxpayer to pay for his second home. He might then think twice about doing so.

    He said it himself. Sunlight as a disinfectant. Well, what more sunlight to disninfect can we have than showing one’s constituents what one does with one’s time, so that they can judge whether one is spending enough time in the constituency? Being an MP is a full-time job, yes.

    You talk about MPs taking jobs in the TA or as medical professionals. We’re not talking about that, are we? I’m sure an MP would be thrilled to talk about that, as that’s a proper public service. But an MP working as a non-executive director at some shady firm, appearing three times a year and making more in those three appearances than their average constituent makes in 3 years – that’s significant. They want to keep it secret (and will stand down if it is made public) because they feel shamed by it when it comes to light.

    This is the principle, Lord Norton. When one enters public office, the national interest exists over and above the right to personal privacy. If they want their privacy back, all they have to do is resign. Simple.

  17. Nick
    05/08/2009 at 1:33 pm

    It’s amazing isn’t. A group of people, the Lords, that are appointed by patronage, whom we are forced to fund using threats, gets uppity when their scams have been found out.

    The immediate reaction isn’t to address the problem, its to hide the problem.

    At the same time, the privacy issue for non-politicians gets worse and worse. We have to tell the state lots of things. The state snoops on us in lots of detail. We don’t like it one iota.

    Well tough. You made the rules, and your going to suffer from it.

    It’s a trend. You’ve snooped on use and invade our privacy. The citizen is going to do the same back. Beit filming lords and mps visiting brothels, to recording phone conversations with the state.

    You started the ball rolling, and you won’t be able to prevent the backlash


  18. Nick
    05/08/2009 at 2:37 pm

    Being able to work out a particular pay band or range is not the same as knowing how much a person is paid. I am not in favour of MPs having to say what hours they put into work which does not derive from their role as an MP and does not impinge on their work as an MP


    We pay them for a full time job. Why shouldn’t we know if they are skiving off work and moonlighting?

    It’s just a cover up for fraud.


  19. lordnorton
    05/08/2009 at 2:46 pm

    Anne Palmer: I have some sympathy with the point you make on the costs of the different bodies that have been created. There was no need for the expense of creating a new supreme court building and the cost of the Scottish Parliament went ludicrously over the top. Though EU law is demonstrably important, a great deal of our law – I would argue the most important – continues to be made in the UK, and where EU law is proposed it is important that it is thoroughly scrutinised prior to implementation. National parliaments are now playing a somewhat greater role, though I would be the first to admit that collectively they could and should be doing more. The Lisbon Treaty confers a greater role though, in practice, it is unlikely (if implemented) that it will make a great deal of difference in relation to what presently happens. The way forward is not so much a result of top-down direction but rather bottom-up pressure for more collaboration between national parliaments, acting on their own volition. On Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689, the more significant challenge comes not from the EU but from the ECHR. This point was variously made in the discussions on the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

    Kyle Mulholland: I see no reason at all for publishing tax returns. They are no business of anyone but the person being taxed and the Inland Revenue. If someone is wealthy, they are just as entitled to a salary for doing a particular job as someone who is not wealthy. The salary goes with the job. There is no national interest justification for revealing income unrelated to one’s work as an MP and the examples I mentioned (dentist, TA member) were chosen because they constitute actual cases. (I know of at least two parliamentarians in the TA who have seen active service in the Middle East.) Anyone working as a non-executive director already has to declare the fact. That information has been available for some time.

    • Croft
      05/08/2009 at 4:09 pm

      But anyone here can google and find the basic pay, seniority additions and deployment allowances for the TA without much trouble. While the experience might be useful/informative deployment would seem problematic for the constituents who lose their MP for a tour.

      • lordnorton
        05/08/2009 at 5:46 pm

        Croft: You still cannot find out, though, the actual amount received by an individual TA member, unless you know how many days and training nights they have spent on TA work. I take your point about deployment, but that must be a matter for the MP and his/her constituents.

  20. Nick
    05/08/2009 at 2:52 pm

    There is no national interest justification for revealing income unrelated to one’s work as an MP and the examples I mentioned (dentist, TA member) were chosen because they constitute actual cases


    Yes there is.

    They are paid to do a full time job, and working on the side is a very strong indication they aren’t working fulll time.

    We have to pay a full time salary, expenses and pensions for them, and we have a right to know that fraud isn’t being committed.

    The lords have shown with the expenses that they are incapable of scrutinyu of MPS or other Lords.

    The release of the information has resulted in the public doing your job.

    Perhaps its the fact that people realise you are redundant and impotent on these matters and questioning why we should therefor pay lots of money for nothing.


  21. 05/08/2009 at 2:57 pm

    Whilst I agree with Baker:

    “Where I think we differ is that I don’t see much space between the existence of additional sources of income and potential conflicts of interest. I think the public has a right to know who (else) is paying MPs and how much.

    I don’t agree that we have a right to know how much. That there is a conflict publicised, should be sufficient.

    Lord Norton you say that “Protecting individual privacy is, to my mind, fundamental to a free society. ” but, as B commented, we, the public are seeing our privacy eroded on an almost daily basis. The Westminster government has recently accepted ALL of the recommendations of the Badman report into Elective Home Education, giving it right of entry to our houses an the power to interrogate our children without parental presence. Home Eds today, the rest of us tomorrow. The police state is here already, for some.

    From the report

    ■ That designated local authority officers should:
    – have the right of access to the home;
    – have the right to speak with each child alone if deemed appropriate or, if a child is
    particularly vulnerable or has particular communication needs, in the company of a
    trusted person who is not the home educator or the parent/carer.

  22. lordnorton
    05/08/2009 at 5:34 pm

    Croft: For some reason, the system doesn’t appear to allow a reply to a reply that is already a reply to a reply (if you see what I mean), which is why my response appears here. I don’t disagree about the high costs involved and that Parliament has not addressed the issue. It is something that needs addressing urgently. I did make the point in discussions on the Constitutional Reform Bill that we were pushing up the costs of delivering justice, which were already too high, and that this was really what needed addressing. We really need to get to grips with crafting a system of justice that can deliver just that – justice. If people are denied access to the courts because of costs, we cannot deliver justice. I know what the problem is: I am not sure what the solution is.

    Alfred: I don’t disagree with the point you are making and that Parliament has not been as vigilant as it should have been in protecting citizens from encroachments on their privacy. I was amazed by the recent research which showed the number of bodies that are permitted to gain access to premises. We have had a few successes recently (for example, getting provisions removed from a Bill that would have enabled another body access to premises) and the report of the Constitution Committee on the Surveillance Society highlighted the nature of the problem deriving from the use of covert and overt surveillance devices. However, we clearly have a long way to go. My post identified what I referred to as a casual encroachment: you have identified another. However, if I have understood the position from what you write, it is the Government’s acceptance of a report: it is not something that has yet been the subject of legislation. If so, there is still time to take action.

  23. lordnorton
    05/08/2009 at 5:41 pm

    Croft: Just realised I did not deal with your point about MPs not helping constituents. Whether it is because they won’t help or are too busy pursuing pursuing personal financial interests, the point is that they are not fulfilling their role as constituency MPs. Either way, they are failing in their duty. If MPs are not doing their job, the local party and indeed electors have power to deal with the matter. It is for the Member to address the causes, or else face the consequences.

    • Croft
      06/08/2009 at 11:41 am

      But that doesn’t match the reality of people’s knowledge; a busy MP will prioritise cases and might legitimately not be able to see/help everyone. A constituent might well give the MP the benefit of the doubt if they have limited outside interests that they have other more vital cases. Conversely if they see their MP is gaining most of their income and devoting large numbers of hours to private interests they might reasonable surmise differently. That judgement is informed by knowing a sufficient level of detail about MPs outside activities.


      I’m a bit puzzled by this comment to be honest. The majority of seats are ‘safe’ and I’ve certainly read of a correlation between safeness of seat and surgery time. In the recent expenses scandal there was a disproportionate number with large majorities. De-selections of sitting MPs are exceptionally rare and mostly seem to come down to the ideological/loyalty/internal disputes. There doesn’t seem a great incidence for MPs being kicked out by either electors or their parties for just being a mediocre MPs as opposed the reasons above or simply your parties electoral performance. Relying on that then as a remedy for failing MPs seems optimistic

  24. lordnorton
    05/08/2009 at 6:13 pm

    Nick: If you wondered why your comment has not been responded to earlier, it is because I have just discovered it in the Spam folder (along with your other comments, all of which seem to say the same thing). You seem to continue relying on assertion without grasping the essentials of the point being made. MPs carry out full-time jobs, but as I mentioned in the post there is a world of difference between that in employment terms (at the risk of provoking Anne Palmer, look at the Working Time Directive) and in a literal sense. There are a great many people who do full-time jobs but also take up other paid work. MPs already declare what other work they do. What I am arguing about is not whether they should have other jobs – that is a different argument – but whether they should declare earnings from such work. It is not the job of the Lords to check on what MPs are doing. The crucial relationship is between MPs and constituents.

  25. Nick
    05/08/2009 at 6:28 pm

    Well, let me points again.

    1. We pay MPs for a full time job.

    2. If they have part time jobs they aren’t fulfilling that part of the contract.

    3. As for the MP and the constituent, as you know it dones’t work that way.

    Currently, the control of whom gets onto the list, is in the hands of a very small number of people in parties. (Baring the open primary recently).

    We have no right of recall, so MPs can carry on for up to 5 years with no redress.

    We have no redress against Lords either.

    It’s not a question of declaring, it is why are they not doing a full time job for which we pay them?

    As for declaring the income, what do we know at the moment. We know that lords and MPs have taken money or asked for money in order to influence what they do for us. That’s now open and a question of fact.

    Declaring that information is the strongest control over illegal activity. This is clear from the amount of money handed back by MPS, and by the temporary expulsion of Lords. Although why it should have been permenant and the police called in is beyond me.

    Excuses such as its not against the rules shows there is a huge problem in Parliament, in both houses. As you can’t control the excesses, opening all the books up is the way forward.

    The same is true of the more serious items such as government spending, and the Lords and Commons are the cause. There is 8 trillion of debt in this country, on and off the books.

    Publishing details of all expenditure above 500 pounds on the web, means people will mash it up, and spot the problems. We will scrutise because both houses haven’t managed to do this.

    Your expenses would then appear on the list.


  26. Troika21
    05/08/2009 at 8:16 pm

    Lord Norton, I suspect that is is one of the problems that comes from having a professional parliament. I think that this is a sop to appease angry tabloids (when are they not?).

    Whatever the intention however, I feel it takes away from the ideas that could really help. Instead of making real changes, they have chosen to cobble together some ideas that will look good on paper, but do nothing.

    I’m sure we can both think of things that could have been in the refrom bill recently, that would have helped, but arn’t in because they won’t make good headlines.

    Knowing what an MP gets from their other jobs will not help me decide how to vote; knowing what they get from lobbyists on the other hand….

  27. Troika21
    05/08/2009 at 8:34 pm

    Anne Palmer:

    When the EU passes a new law, it does not tell each nation exactly how to implement it – the nations decide for themselves how it is to be applied.

    Your complaints about the Scottish Parliament and other buildings are justified, but they are not a plot by the EU.
    Just appaling planning by our own government.

    Anne, the parliament contains british representatives as well as ‘foreigners’, the EU does not ‘rule’ either – it works by consensus, each group horse trading to achieve their goals, (which is what makes the EU so arse-paralysingly boring).

    Anne, how have the UK’s forces been dummied down? The UK is one of the ‘Big Three’ in all areas of the EU.

    Lastly, again, the way the EU works is that each individual nations government implements EU laws, they very laws that those nations also had a hand in crafting, through the council, the the parliamant and through discussion in our own commons – all of them elected by us.

  28. 06/08/2009 at 4:37 am

    Lord Norton said: “However, if I have understood the position from what you write, it is the Government’s acceptance of a report: it is not something that has yet been the subject of legislation. If so, there is still time to take action.

    That is correct. However, despite many people pointing out the major flaws in the Badman report and its almost criminal misuse of statistical information, it feels as if one is trying to stop an intercity express by lying on the track.

    It is as if the government has made its mind up, doesn’t want to listen and is already onto the next ill thought through bit of legislation that will probably also include some more overrides of our privacy.

  29. lordnorton
    06/08/2009 at 3:51 pm

    Nick: Merely repeating assertions doesn’t make them valid. You may wish to look up my opening remarks in Grand Committee on the Political Parties and Elections Bill in responding to the minister on my amendment to require the government to respond within six months to reports from the Electoral Commission. I think my comments are applicable to your observations.

  30. 06/08/2009 at 4:29 pm

    Troika21said “… they very laws that those nations also had a hand in crafting, through the council, the the parliamant and through discussion in our own commons – all of them elected by us.

    If I may say, that is seeing the process through slightly rose tinted glasses. It is the Commission that generates laws, much of which is as a result of powerful lobbying. The Council has little practical input and if you have visited the European Parliament you will know that it has almost no real power. It passes the flood of legislation coming from the Commission as almost a rubber stamping body. You could criticise Britain for not lobbying harder to get legislation that it wants, but to suggest that, as an EU state, we have much input into the legislative process, is misunderstanding the power of the heads of the Commission Directorates. I recommend Marta Andreasen’s book “Brussels Laid Bare” as a starting point in understanding the way that the unelected, almost unaccountable Commission actually works.

  31. Anne Palmer
    06/08/2009 at 8:29 pm

    Re Scottish Parliament-this from an article (of mine) from 2001 when I attended a meeting on the forthcoming Regions of the EU. “The Scottish Parliament had been held up as an example of what devolution meant and the workings of it, so it was this example that I quoted from the meeting that took place in the Scottish Parliament on 22nd May this year, when members from the European Union’s Committee of the Regions attended, and that I had the report of that debate (which I held up for all to see, and was read actually by one member of the committee talking about the Regions) in which I chose the words of Mr Dammeyer when he had been speaking to the Scottish Parliament about devolution, that as far as the Scottish people are concerned, Scotland is a “Country”, the Scottish people are “nation”, but Mr Dammeyer explained that from the European point of view Scotland is like a Region of the European Union. I made the point that the Welsh people are also a nation, and Wales is a “Country”, but again, as far as the European Union is concerned Wales is a Region of the European Union. I concluded that the English are a “nation”, and England is a Country, but England as far as the EU is concerned will have to be divided up into regions. (The EU decided that, and the British government obviously agreed)

    We remember very well the dumbing down of our regiments because we lost some of the most famous ones. We have been told that there will be no EU Army etc but I have also read the NEW full Article 188R.(Some what different to the small entry in Lisbon) The Solidarity Clause. A new article which introduces a new and wide-ranging “solidarity clause” which compels the Member States to act together in the event of a natural disaster or a terrorist attack”, which we have always done-though by asking any sovereign state first if they would like assistance. NOW it COMPELS. This along with the Agreement for first came the realisation that an Agreement/Treaty had been already signed. Here is the first paragraph,

    “Agreement between the Member States of the European Union concerning the status of military and civilian staff seconded to the institutions of the European Union, of the headquarters and forces which may be made available to the European Union in the context of the preparation and execution of tasks referred to in Article 17(2) of the Treaty on European Union, including exercises, and of the military and civilian staff of the Member States put at the disposal of the European Union to act in this context (EU SOFA) Brussels, 17 November 2003”. Which had been presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs by Command of Her Majesty, March 2009. END of Paragraph.

    To check on that, I went looking for an EU Directive or confirmation of the “Agreement” that I was sure must be there somewhere, and yes, there it was in all its glory in the Official Journal of the EU, C 321/6 dated 31.12.2003. I would suggest the whole of Article 17 mentioned above requires a ‘good read’, because that comes from a Treaty that is already activated. All the signature are shown on the last pages and Yes the UK has signed and so has Ireland!

    It may have esscaped you notice Troika21, but we actually vote and pay, plus vast expenses that have so recently been taken advantage of- to actuall instigate all our laws, not just transpose EU laws into our system. I have explained above the extra costs to us, the tax payers for all the extra layers of alleged governance, and in these credit crunch days, we simply cannot afford to pay and most certainly not if the Treaty of Lisbon becomes active without the people having a say on this very constitutional Treaty. Already today it has been suggested that another £50 billion be put into circulation. If we just came out of the EU think of the money we would save and in areas I have not even mentioned yet.

  32. Frank Wynerth Summer
    07/08/2009 at 3:19 pm

    This is addressed very much to Lord Norton. However, I would be pleasantly stunned if he joined under his own name for many reasons. I am posting a related link on a social networking utility. If some readers of LOTB belong to it, they may find it interesting. It is a group not centered around the idea of provacy but which does grapple with the idea and its implications.

    Now that there are so many comments and it seems less like an advertisement I am going to submit a link to a group I founded and administer on Facebook. I assume the moderators generaly exclude this sort of thing or I would have seen it more often. I will just say I administer 13 groups on Facebook several of which are more than an order of magnitude larger. I earn nothing, endorse no party and otherwise do not fit the typical profile of someone promoting something with a link that moderators might object to for good reason. If you see the link to Seedbed of a New Geopolitics here then the moderators agrred with me. It may seem a bit quirky of a group compared to the streamlined false coherencies of most current ideologies. However, please consider joining us, ten members when I posted this who by taking a very long term view hope to make a large difference one tiny step at a time. Here it is then Seedbed of a New Geopolitics.

  33. Senex
    11/08/2009 at 9:13 pm

    Frank: “5. …and willingness to do harm.”

    I think this may qualify as a Gee Whiz Bush moment?

    During the darkest days of his administration some states were thinking of seceding from the union and rejoining the British Commonwealth. Problem was the only Redcoats we could send at short notice were from:

    Fortunately for the US, the only arms they possess hang down from each shoulder and they disarm using broad smiles and a cheerful disposition. Absolutely Terrifying!

    • Frank W.Summers III
      12/08/2009 at 3:44 am

      Senex: First this computer today took my whole name under which we had met at the old LOTB so if it appears I am the same person as the truncated Frank W. Summer. Second the point says the military must have several qualities and rather minimizes willingness to do harm. So bellicosity is not a quality demanded of all group members. It is vital in the military and is fairly abundant in the human species. Dealing with that quality honestly offers at least a sliver of hope for sanity. Most paths without such honesty…..
      are scarcely worth discussing here.

  34. B
    09/10/2009 at 1:21 pm

    Not to belabor the point, but reading through the following might reveal why many were so quick to say that your concerns over privacy paled in comparison to the indignities the average person has to suffer or fear on a daily basis.

    • franksummers3ba
      09/10/2009 at 5:07 pm

      Thanks for posting the document. Liberty is in factr a costly commodity. No society can afford an infinite supply. But it is not wasteful by its nature and is more likely to be a good investment than not. However, I hope there are many (not just a few that I might know of ) who can see that British liberty was in part built on the force towards expansion which goes back before the Empire. It was strengthened by the Empire in many ways. I think Britain cerinly circumscribed the liberty of others in the Imperial era and the consolidation era prior to that. However, one must remeber that we live on Earth and the option was never Britain or paradise. Compared to Vikings, Saracens, Hordes from the Eurasian plains and some others what sort of balance did Britain bring?
      The relevant point I would make is that if there are liberty loving groups in Britain do they see the connection to Leadership and Expansion of some form or another clearly?
      Alternatively, do they just feel shame and moon about wishing for liberty to emerge by rearranging the fight over scraps?
      It seems liberty seldom comes from such a process.
      I am quite proud of American Imperialism in its most real sense (the Philippines, Samoa, Guam, Micronesia and Puerto Rico) despite its many failures and flaws and we never even had an empire in the strictest sense. But I know liberty is not won by wishing and feeling sad.

Comments are closed.