Speaker speak to me!

I am a floating voter in today’s election of a new Speaker. I just got back from doing BBC Breakfast talking about same. I am certain I want someone who understands the game is up – someone who can walk the establishment into the light of the modern era. I want an end to stupid traditions from the absurdity of the new Speaker having to be dragged to the Chair – sheer pantomime -to the use of arcane forms of address in the Chamber. I want an end to partisan speakership. I want someone who knows that the only way to save Parliament is to break the chains that bind us.

The interviewer this morning said to me that I was a reformer so why hadn’t I put myself forward given I had signed the old Speaker’s death warrant. Well – outside of the fact I would almost certainly fall asleep in the Chair – I only entered in 2005 and you need to command respect across the House (and that takes a little longer) and I am a campaigning and doing MP – the real problem with a reformer per se is that it will take a traditionalist who has seen the light and understands what needs to be done to take that establishment body forward. Anyway – the Norman Bakers of this world who really could take the agenda forward – didn’t put themselves in the frame.

So – I will listen to the hustings and see what each candidate offers. I couldn’t give a fig which party they come from – as the person who gets my vote will genuinely have to put partisanship behind. And then I will give my vote to the person who persuades me that they really understand what has happened and the game is up, the gentlemen’s club is no longer – and it’s time for change. Yes we can!

Mr Speaker doesn't speak for me

ParliamentSo – the Speaker is going to court to try to keep secret the details of MPs‘ second homes expense claims. Well, he doesn’t speak for me when doing that!

I’ve got an open mind on the security benefits of keeping the addresses of the homes secret – especially as if you know an MP is at Parliament, that might be a good time to burgle … and for most MPs they’re not – for example – the addresses which get published anyway on nomination papers at election time.

But – goodness me – that’s no excuse to keep everything else secret.

Why not publish all the other details straight away, here and now – even if there is going to be further discussion over the addresses? That would be the act of an organisation that really believes in openness and understands the crisis in public confidence.

Instead – yet again we seem to have the Parliamentary authorities looking for excuses to avoid doing the right thing rather than finding the best way of dealing with any minor fallout from doing the right thing.

UPDATE: My colleague Norman Baker (MP for Lewes) has put it well in the papers today, “I think it sends entirely the wrong signal that the House of Commons will appear in the public’s eye to be resisting a tribunal decision and we will look as though we are trying to protect our own backs. I am sympathetic to the point that MPs’ addresses should not be made public. I think they have a right to query that point but no more.”

UPDATE 2: Nick Clegg has now written to the Speaker on the topic.

And lo, Gordon Brown spends, spends, spends to bailout Metronet

A few days ago I wrote about the huge financial headache left when tube maintenance company Metronet collapsed. Labour has now had to bail out the mess – a mess caused by their part-privatisation of our tube network in the first place.

It again shines a light on one of the real problems with these sorts of PPP deals: there were sold as shifting the risk to the private sector (who also got the chance to make profits). Instead, we’ve seen firms making profits – but in the end the risk still stays with us taxpayers. As Norman Baker (Lib Dem MP and general scourge of all things wrong) put it: “Just like Northern Rock, the private sector takes the profit when they can, and the public sector bails them out when matters go pear-shaped.”

The one small piece of good news in all this? The bailout bill looks to be coming in at £1.7 billion rather than £1.9 billion.

Freedom of Information

It’s an indictment of Private Members Bills really – the fact that Tory and Labour MPs mustered (although whipping is meant to be forbidden) enough support on Friday to stop MPs being subject to Freedom of Information legislation. We now have to rely on the Lords to put a spoke in this wheel.

For the uninitiated – Private Members Bills are read on a Friday when the vast majority of MPs have a constituency day for surgeries and meetings, so Parliamentarians are normally scattered all over the country on a Friday. So if you were watching Parliament on TV (I hear some do!) or the news coverage, you would have seen empty benches barring the few speakers.

(As it happens, I was off sick on doctor’s orders, though had I not been, I’d have had the dilemma to choose between important constituency engagements, such as meeting people who have casework to raise with me, or being in Parliament to vote; that’s often a difficult choice to make and it’s a daft one to be forced into making so frequently).

On the previous occasion this Bill came to the floor of the Commons for debate, Liberal Democrat MPs Simon Hughes and Norman Baker have used a tactic of ‘talking out’ the Bill – meaning filibustering until the House runs out of time and the Bill falls, though – as you see – sometimes it comes back another day. This time, unusually, some old and rarely used rules were invoked to allow a vote to be forced.

All in all – not a very satisfactory way of doing business. MPs are there to be vote on legislation and to do work in their constituencies. Using Fridays like this forces them to choose. And having the progress of a bill depending on who can talk for longest or invoke the most obscure rule … well, full credit to Simon and Norman for doing all they could to block this legislation, but wouldn’t it be more sensible if we’d all been debating the bill on its merits (or rather lack of them!)?

I would prefer to see a change in the way Private Members Bills are done. They should be accorded proper debate on a normal sitting day. And if the Government says there is not enough time during the rest of the week – then perhaps if we a) had a government that stopped producing legislation in order to look active or sound tough and b) only spoke for as long as necessary rather than because they like the sound of their own voices – there would be plenty of time.

There are several MPs who pride themselves particularly on going in on a Friday and talking out any Bill that comes forward and I don’t really think it is right to use such tactics on a regular basis as a matter of normal business. Imagine if in your place of work decisions were simply made on the basis of whether or not someone could keep speaking until the end of a meeting? I don’t think people would stand for that for very long!

So full credit to Simon, Norman and the others for doing all they could in these exceptional circumstances to block this awful piece of legislation – but next time, surely, we should have more sensible rules in place. Gordon Brown is talking about being about substance and giving more power to Parliament. Let’s see how serious he and his colleagues turn out to be about the rules under which Parliament operates…