Tories still don't get it!

You know all the hoo ha over MP expenses and the subsequent setting up of the independent Kelly Commission to recommend how to proceed to take all of this out of MPs’ own hands?

Well – the recommendation was for an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to be set up. All Parliament had to do for it to come into being was rubber stamp its’ setting up and the people to be on it with a straightforward motion to the House.

It was truly dreadful, therefore, to find that the Tories had tabled an amendment to this motion to remove one of the people proposed (independently) to serve on it. We had all agreed, cross party, to abide by the Kelly recommendations and keep well out of anything to do with its composition or anything. And here were the Tories still trying to fiddle and change outcomes – even when we are now desperate to get politics cleaned up and sorted. But they still don’t get it.

To stop them – we used a pretty obscure procedure which resulted in the amendment not being put but leaving the main motion setting up IPSA to be passed.

David Heath our Shadow Leader of the House said this:

“We managed tonight to prevent Parliament making a mockery of the independence of IPSA. MPs should not be picking and choosing the members of the authority in charge of MPs expenses. Nor should Conservative MPs be second-guessing a fair and open competitive selection process. We may have had to use an obscure procedure, but we kept Parliament honest.”

As I said to David Heath, ‘IPSA FACTO’! (my first and only Latin joke!).

MPs expenses and freedom of information

Well – this is back in the news! The latest proposal in the on-going saga of MPs expenses is to exempt us from freedom of information rules, and so avoid having to publish full details.

My view is that we MPs should have the same rules as everyone else: same sorts of evidence required for expense claims as in a normal workplace, and same transparency rules as others.

I don’t see why the House of Commons administration should not be the body to whom all expenses are submitted and then they check that it is all bona fide. And nor do I see why MPs should have some special freedom of information exemption.

Glad to say that opposition to the suggestions that MPs should be exempted from these freedom of information rules is shared by David Heath and Nick Clegg! My colleague Jo Swinson is also putting down a motion in Parliament against the exemption idea. I think it would be madness for MPs to be exempted.

More on the campaign at MySociety, Matt Wardman and these two Facebook groups.

Police Justice Bill

Leading for the Liberal Democrats in Parliament on the Police Justice Bill today – which means pressure! What always astonishes me is that although it takes months for a Bill to wend its way through the legislative process in both Houses of Parliament, when it is due to come to the Chamber, it is so utterly rushed. Third reading in the Lords on the Thursday, Hansard published on Friday (needed so you can read up on what was said, what happened and why etc) and back in the Commons for Lords amendments on the Monday. So frantic weekend preparing – but even then you don’t know what amendments will be taken in what order – as that only came through at lunchtime today.

The big issue was extradition – because we on the Lib Dem side believe that – in a nutshell – our treaty with the USA means they can extradite our citizens much easier than we can get theirs. The Without going into the nitty gritty that had the lawyers in the house slavering – it’s not fair! Oor extradition expert, David Heath, did a great job on extradition

The rumours were that the vote would be close – possibly even a defeat for the Government. And given the number of Labour ministers in the lobbies (including Tony Blair – who often does not vote) I guess the Labour whips must have thought they might lose. It was close – but not that close. Close enough, however, for it to be likely that the House of Lords will have another go on this when the Bill goes back to them.

I then battled on Conditional Cautions – where the Government is creating (in my view) a two-tier justice system as you will be given a choice to pay a fine or go to court. If you pay a fine (i.e. if you can afford it) – then you not only avoid the nasty business of going to court, but you also evade a criminal record. I call this Labour’s Pay & Go policies.

Then it was the powers that the Home Secretary wants to directly intervene in a failing police force. There used to be independent inspection – which if negative would trigger intervention. The Government had conceded that some independent inspection should still be involved – but there are no criteria for what constitutes ‘failing’ or ‘last resort’. Given the Government’s sensitivity to bad publicity, you can just imagine something going wrong and getting them bad headlines over a crime incident. And then in order to look active and in charge – the Home Sec ‘intervenes’. The operational independence of the police in my view would be seriously compromised. The last thing we need is any more politicisation of the police.

On police mergers the Government agreed to the five test that we and the Tories put forward – making the case, public and proper (not just statutory) consultation, adequate parliamentary time, addressing the funding etc. So no vote needed on this one!

And last but not least – prison inspectorates. We had already had a great victory in the Lords. The Government’s defeat meant they came back at the last minute with 20 pages of amendments to Lords Third Reading stage abandoning their proposals to merge five inspectorates together. I had laid such a similar amendment at Committee stage in the Commons – but the Government didn’t budge. Sadly we rely on the Lords to right wrongs! Anyway – there were a few details that pulled back power to the Home Sec again – and away from the independent inspectorates. So the Tories managed to get amendments down on these – but the Government defeated us.

I also just about managed to meet my constituent Caroline Sharpe – part of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer lobby today. And she was very successful in lobbying me (and I was very happy to be lobbied as so many women fail to get screened). I am going to see if I can get a letter out to those areas in Hornsey & Wood Green where screening take up is so poor. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t know someone (or more) who has breast cancer. I have several friends – and my mother had it too. Early detection and the new treatments can change the prospects of survival dramatically. Also – as Caroline pointed out – Herceptin is easy to get if you go privately as are new forms of chemo – which up your chances. Our state system has to improve in its treatment of these types of diseases. It used to be that the difference between going private or state was just that you got a nice private room and food – but the clinical treatment was the same – and in the end it is the clinical treatment that really counts. Now there appears to be a clinical difference – then we need to agitate for the NHS to be able to provide the best possible.

My bathing costume

I pass Simon Hughes on route from one part of Commons to another – and as he passes he turns and says ‘loved your review’! As he had a wicked grin on his face and I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about – I asked my Head of Office, Andrew, to find out.

It turned out to be a column by Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail writing about Parliament yesterday. I quote:

“A less generous eye might have fallen on the blinking figure of Charles Clarke, stretched so hard at the Home Office in recent days.

“It might hover, too, over the currently reduced form of Charles Kennedy – not to mention the outfit of a glamorous new Lib Dem MP called Lynne Featherstone, who was wearing an outfit that resembled a bathing costume.

“For spectacle Miss Featherstone’s top was matched only by an extraordinary, glowing object halfway down the Government front bench. This turned out to be the sunburnt bald head of John Reid, Defence Secretary.”

I desperately try to think about the decency of my attire the previous day. I was pretty sure that, although I didn’t wear my usual combination of dark trouser suit with jacket and white T-shirt, I hadn’t entirely lost the plot and worn a swimsuit. I had indeed, although unusually, worn a dress – it was a sweltering day. But to me – it was my formal summer dress (grey and discreet) – and although it has no sleeves and is not high cut at the neck, it is virtually knee length and very respectable. I remember wearing it with its matching coat to meet the Queen when she opened City Hall.

When I was young, I used to get upset at such comments – or indeed – wolf whistles as I walked past building sites. Now at my advanced age – I am simply grateful. Thank you Quentin – I say!

I stick around for the Tory Opposition Debates in the afternoon and evening – but there is an ‘incident’. On the information screens around Parliament, moving text along the bottom informs us that entrance to the Commons is barred to all for the time being because of an ‘incident ongoing’.

David Heath whispers to me in the chamber that the story doing the rounds is the police are chasing a suspected bomber along the South Bank – no idea if that was the case. My pager goes saying because of the incident there are no votes tonight – so I go home around 9pm. I get home around 9.50pm at which point my pager goes again informing me that votes are expected at 10pm. Well – I can’t get back quite that quick! Next day Whips apologise for the cock-up.