Friday, 19 February 2010

Reform will have to be fought for

A document has found its way to Lobbydog which reveals the level of frustration among MPs tasked with reforming Parliament.

The Reform of the House of Commons Committee was set up to decide how to strengthen Parliament, so it could better challenge the Government.

The group published a report last year called Rebuilding the House laying out changes which they expected would be included in a motion to be debated in the Commons on Tuesday.

But the leaked document – a briefing note from a February 10th evidence session – reveals the group felt leaders were not only dragging their feet, but that the motion the Government finally put forward waters down their suggestions.

The note shows reformers had planned to ask party leaders why things weren’t moving more quickly in setting up a “back-bench business committee” which would take over scheduling some Commons business from the Government.

Questions that reformers - including Nottingham MP Graham Allen (above) - wanted to ask included:

“Are all three of you signed up to this idea? If so, can we not go a bit faster than proposed? Surely you can get a Standing Order together which could get the Committee going in a new session?”

The note then shows that reformers believe the Government motion “does not seem to accept” the idea that MPs, instead of whips, should choose who sits on Select Committees.

This is crucial because the current system allows the Government to fill the committees – which scrutinise policy – with friendly voices.

Finally the note shows frustration that the Governemnt motion – to be put forward by Harriet Harman – simply ignores three recommendations the reformers wanted.

They include letting MPs decide who chairs the Intelligence and Security Committee, giving opposition parties more power over opposition day debates and setting up a committee to scrutinise how petitions are used.

The changes that are eventually brought in could dramatically alter the way we practice democracy in the UK.

So if these issues still have not been sorted out by Tuesday’s debate I hope the reformers have the courage to speak out and demand action from their own party leaders.

P.S. I should add that Graham Allen is not the source.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Hoon and Hewitt slammed

Geoff Hoon and Pat Hewitt took a verbal bashing from a member of Labour’s governing body today.

Lobbydog was chatting to the National Executive Committee’s Peter Kenyon who said it would be outrageous if the pair took up their so-called “resettlement grants”.

Hoon stands to walk away with £64,000 and Hewitt, £54,000, under the grant system, which was set up to help MPs “adjust to non-parliamentary life”.

Kenyon said: “I think there is a case for any member of any party that doesn’t have a genuine need, to voluntarily forgo the grant. That seems to be the incontrovertible case.

“For an MP that is stepping down at the next election that already has employment or the means of surviving promptly it would be outrageous for them to claim it, particularly in the light of how the public now sees MPs.

“If it requires intervention to that end from the Parliamentary Standards Authority, then I would whole heartedly support that.”

It’s all the more scandalous of course because neither Hoon, a trained lawyer with a property portfolio, nor Hewitt, who holds board level positions with Boots, BT, Cinven and Barclays Capital, is in a tight spot financially now that they’re leaving the House.

If they had waited till after the election before standing down they would have lost the grant all together as the system under which they are entitled to it will most likely be scrapped.

LD spoke to the pair yesterday, both said they had “not given much thought” as to whether they would take the grant or not.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Valentine's without the PM

After concerted pressure Mrs Lobbydog won a pledge that our Valentine’s night would not be spent with Gordon Brown and Piers Morgan.

Understandable I guess. Nothing is more of a turn off than listening to a politician talk about love.

In fact the very thought of it reminds me of that Louis Theroux programme when he spoke to Neil and Christine Hamilton.

Anyway, as a consequence I missed Brown answering Morgan’s questions about his children, wife and the “mile high club” (shiver).

From the reports I’ve read this morning it is being greeted as a piece of pretentious electioneering.

But given that it was apparently targeted at female voters I’d be interested to know what they though of it, do let me know.