Spotlight on Standards
The last few weeks have seen acres of newsprint and hours of television devoted to MPs having second jobs and wealthy businesspeople allegedly “buying” their peerages. Social media has been full of negative comment as well, after the botched attempt to change the standards mechanism in the Commons.
To say the government has not handled this crisis well is an understatement. Given recent experience with the expenses scandal of 2009, one would have anticipated a more robust and credible response.
The facts, however, are sometimes overlooked. Out of 650 MPs, only a small minority have second jobs, and having outside interests and experience is not a bad thing. It should enrich Parliament and ensure the Commons is not totally populated by MPs who have no experience other than that gained by previously working for politicians or parties.
In the Upper House the same applies. Only a tiny minority of peers are in the spotlight of these allegations, serious though they are. What is often forgotten in all this sound and fury is that the “poor bloody infantry” of ordinary Members have been getting on with their work, either representing constituents in the Commons, or serving on many committees and scrutinising legislation in the Lords.
Most Members want to get on with their work and believe it is an honour to serve in Parliament, and most believe they can make this country better. Most know how to behave properly. At a time when politicians are under considerable personal threat, it is sad to see our institutions dragged through the mud because of the selfishness of a few of our number.
The last few weeks have sapped morale in the Palace of Westminster
Surely by now we should have an acceptable system of checks and balances in place that both Members and public can accept as open, fair and transparent? These processes must be dominated by common sense to ensure that corruption is excluded from our Parliament, and that some “high risk” second jobs are no longer permitted.
The last few weeks have sapped morale in the Palace of Westminster. The same old stories keep being repeated but with little real research being undertaken. The House of Lords established a committee years ago under the chairmanship of Lord Burns, to deal with the issue of numbers. We endorsed a plan to reduce membership and deal with party imbalance in our membership. This required the co-operation of the prime minister of the day.
Former premier Theresa May, by and large, was sympathetic and operated along the lines of the Burns Report which would see the number of peers equal the number of MPs over time. This plan has not received support from the present Prime Minister and, as a result, a surge of new Members has occurred.
Only No 10 can deal with this. Peers are already agreed on ending the hereditary peers’ by-elections and most hereditary peers are in support of the proposals put forward by Labour’s Lord Grocott. This would see an end to the hereditary principle altogether.
I firmly believe Parliament must be open to our media to ensure transparency. We need to work with the media to help get across what we are trying to achieve and communicate with the public.
But it is up to all parliamentarians to ensure these repeated scandals are brought to an end. It is the job of the elected Prime Minister to ensure that numbers of peers are controlled, and that mechanisms are in place to deal with bad behaviour by any Member. This is not rocket science. Solutions are already on the table. Let them be implemented and bring an end to this morale sapping and embarrassing series of scandals.
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