Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Should MPs be above the law?

This is the sort of questions we should not have to ask. It should be assumed that the laws MPs pass should apply to everyone, including themselves. The assumption however has come in for a bit of a battering recently. The issue starts with what each of us has, as a right, to know about what government and our elected representatives do in the name of the public and how they spend our money.

The government promised and indeed brought in a right to know which became law in 2005. Called the Freedom of Information Act, this was a great step forward from the secretive days of the Official Secrets Act that made a huge amount of government information into official secrets.

There was one consequence of the right to know that some MPs never actually foresaw. Their travel expenses, paid for by the tax payer, were revealed for all to see. The government itself resisted the move to publish this information but earlier this year, a legal case brought by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, forced the publication of the expenses.

It revealed some rather large travel expenses with some MPs clocking up large bills for air travel and car expenses. Had they known these expenses were going to be published, few MPs would have been so generous to themselves with taxpayers’ money.

Conservative MP and former chief whip David Maclean then brought in a “private members bill” to exclude MPs from the Freedom of Information Act, therefore allowing them to keep their expenses secret.

A “private members bill” would normally stand no chance of getting passed by Parliament without government support. They simply get killed off, often through lack of time. That’s what Lib Dem MPs tried to do with the Maclean bill (with the support of a small number of Labour and Conservative backbenchers).

But then the Labour party intervened, and gave the bill some helpful backing to ensure it got through the Commons. This discreditable performance by Labour means this atrocious bill stands a reasonable chance of being passed.

It could be defeated in the House of Lords. Let’s hope it is.

Readers may be interested to know that Gateshead Labour MP Dave Clelland voted for the bill. Earlier this year, it was revealed that he had spend £18125 of taxpayers’ money over the previous year on travel. This consisted of £5315 car expenses, £3,699 for train travel, and a jet-setting £9,114 for air tickets.

When confronted by the Evening Chronicle about his sky high flying bill, he explained he “lives near the airport.” True! But what he didn’t say was that he lives even closer to Newcastle Central Station where he could let the less polluting train take the strain to get to London.

It will be a disgrace if the unholy alliance of the Labour government and a group of Conservative MPs takes away from the public the right to know. And it will undermine Gordon Brown’s claims that he wants a more open and accountable form of government. Hardly a good start for him.
You can sign the petition against the move to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information: just follow this link - http://www.ourcampaign.org.uk/foi


observer said...

Clelland seems to like jetting about rather than using the train.

It's always amusing when these self-styled 'socialists' get a taste of the good life and try to explain it away.

Still, MP's travel exoenses will not be exempt from the FOI, though nearly everything else will.

George Dutton said...

MPs who voted FOR the Bill...

David Clelland MP.
See list below...

Brown will not block secrecy bid. "shameful day for Parliament".
BBC - Fri, 18 May 2007 16:21:27 GMT

Gordon Brown has rejected calls to block a controversial move by MPs to get out of freedom of information laws.

MPs pushed the plan closer to becoming law earlier in what critics called a "shameful day for Parliament".

The MPs say they want to protect private letters from constituents -but critics say the move would also allow them to keep their expenses secret.

MPs who voted FOR the Bill :

Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob; Allen, Mr. Graham; Anderson, Janet; Atkinson, Mr. Peter; Bailey, Mr. Adrian; Bell, Sir Stuart; Betts, Mr. Clive; Blackman, Liz; Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas; Burgon, Colin; Burns, Mr. Simon; Butterfill, Sir John; Cairns, David; Campbell, Mr. Alan; Campbell, Mr. Ronnie; Clelland, Mr. David; Cohen, Harry; David, Mr. Wayne; Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit; Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.; Doran, Mr. Frank; Dowd, Jim; Duddridge, James; Eagle, Angela; Eagle, Maria; Efford, Clive; Ellwood, Mr. Tobias; Fitzpatrick, Jim; Flint, Caroline; Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester); Hall, Mr. Mike; Harris, Mr. Tom; Henderson, Mr. Doug; Heppell, Mr. John; Hill, rh Keith; Irranca-Davies, Huw; Jones, Mr. Kevan; Jones, Mr. Martyn; Kemp, Mr. Fraser; Kirkbride, Miss Julie; Knight, rh Mr. Greg; Lammy, Mr. David; Laxton, Mr. Bob; Levitt, Tom; Lewis, Mr. Ivan; Lewis, Dr. Julian; Lloyd, Tony; Maclean, rh David; Mahmood, Mr. Khalid; Marshall, Mr. David; McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas; McCabe, Steve; McCartney, rh Mr. Ian; McFall, rh John; McIsaac, Shona; McNulty, Mr. Tony; Merron, Gillian; Michael, rh Alun; Moffatt, Laura; Morley, rh Mr. Elliot; Mudie, Mr. George; Munn, Meg; Murphy, Mr. Denis; Neill, Robert; Pelling, Mr. Andrew; Plaskitt, Mr. James; Pound, Stephen; Pritchard, Mark; Purchase, Mr. Ken; Randall, Mr. John; Robertson, John; Roy, Mr. Frank; Ruffley, Mr. David; Ryan, Joan; Salter, Martin; Shaw, Jonathan; Sheridan, Jim; Simon, Mr. SiƓn; Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough); Snelgrove, Anne; Spellar, rh Mr. John; Stewart, Ian; Tami, Mark; Taylor, Ms Dari; Thomas, Mr. Gareth; Tredinnick, David; Turner, Dr. Desmond; Ward, Claire; Watson, Mr. Tom; Watts, Mr. Dave; Wicks, Malcolm; Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann; Winterton, Ann; Winterton, Sir Nicholas; Woolas, Mr. Phil; Wright, David; Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. Tim Boswell and Mr. Andrew Dismore

MPs who voted at 1:57pm to allow a vote, but disappeared for the 2:13pm vote : Balls, Ed; Cawsey, Mr. Ian; Chope, Mr. Christopher; Clark, Paul; Coaker, Mr. Vernon; Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan; Gardiner, Barry; Godsiff, Mr. Roger; Hammond, Stephen; Hurd, Mr. Nick; Laing, Mrs. Eleanor; O'Brien, Mr. Mike; Prentice, Bridget; Ruddock, Joan; Sheerman, Mr. Barry; Smith, rh Jacqui; Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerryl; Vara, Mr. Shailesh

MPs who voted AGAINST the Bill : Baker, Norman; Burt, Lorely; Clappison, Mr. James; Corbyn, Jeremy; Cousins, Jim; Farron, Tim; Field, rh Mr. Frank; Fisher, Mark; Galloway, Mr. George; Gerrard, Mr. Neil; Gidley, Sandra; Goldsworthy, Julia; Harris, Dr. Evan; Hoey, Kate; Hollobone, Mr. Philip; Howarth, David; Hughes, Simon; Kramer, Susan; Maples, Mr. John; Norris, Dan; Redwood, rh Mr. John; Shepherd, Mr. Richard; Soulsby, Sir Peter; Williams, Hywel; Winnick, Mr. David; Tellers for the Noes: Mr. Alan Reid and Jo Swinson

Sharon Young said...

further to a response by an assumed "Labour party member/councillor/MP on your personal web page that Lib Dems are "PRETENDING TO OPPOSE THIS BILL IN ORDER TO CREATE HEADLINES ON FOCUS LEAFLETS, I feel I must respond to the news learned today.

Not a SINGLE member of the so called useless HOUSE OF LORDS (in the Labour Party's eyes) has come forward to support the original bill proposed by the Conservative MP for Penrith & The Border, supported by Labour MP's (with exception in the NE to Jim Cousins - good on you !)

What a punch in the face to the first original "opiniost" on this subject on your web page, and, most important of all, a first class blow on the nose of MP's who have something to hide on this issue.

Sharon Young

George Dutton said...

It should be noted that this bill has been (temporarily) stopped because the Lib Dems made it such a hot potato to handle. With Brown not wanting to be seen doing such a thing as soon as he becomes PM. A sudden change was to be expected.
Well done Lib Dems, but we have not heard the end of this as always with NEW Labour they will try it on again with the help of their sister party the tories. They both have so much to hide from the british public.