Was in the Chamber for the Speaker's statement, which I suspect will do little to address the current turmoil. I was rather surprised that he didn't seem to know the status of Douglas Carswell's motion of no confidence, calling it an early day motion, and then having to check with the clerks whether it was indeed a substantive motion before confirming that it was actually one of the 'remaining orders of the day'. He then had to check again with the clerks how or if it could ever become a substantive motion, which would mean it gets debated in the main Chamber and voted upon. I'd have thought he'd have been briefed on all that before coming before the House.
Anyway, the answer seems to be that the Government (which would mean Harriet as the Leader of the House) has to decide to put it on the Order Paper, so the question now I suppose is how many signatures would the motion have to obtain before Harriet feels it has be debated? Obviously can't debate every motion that gets a few signatures as otherwise we'd never get round to normal parliamentary business, but what would be a critical mass? 10% of backbenchers? 20%?
We're working through the ACA (second home) receipts at the moment with a view to publishing them tonight or tomorrow. The technical difficulty is this:
- The Fees Office will be publishing 'redacted' copies in due course, by mid-June it's hoped. These will have all sensitive details blacked out, e.g. home addresses, bank account details, credit card details, staff details (i.e. the addresses and bank account details), etc.
- At the moment, however, MPs have been given online access to, and paper copies upon request, of a different set of papers, which has the redacted bits shown in grey - i.e. you can see what is going to be blacked out, but it's still visible at the moment. This is what the Telegraph has got its hands on.
- The only way for an MP to publish the redacted version therefore is to sit down with the paper copies, black out the grey bits, scan them onto the computer (with, in my case, a doddery old fax machine as the scanner which doesn't like scanning more than a couple of pages at a time) and then publish.
- Frank Field has found a way to do this online, i.e. changing the grey bits to black, but apparently techno-buffs would find it quite easy to turn them back to grey.
- We've been told by the Fees Office that as soon as we publish the claims ourselves, we become responsible under the Data Protection Act for any information put into the public domain. So we have to be quite careful about what we put online.
I intend to put online some of the information that the Fees Office has redacted. For example, there is one claim where they have blacked out a sume of c£1200 claimed by me for security and a note explaining that I'd cleared this with someone in the Fees Office, and it was because I'd been burgled twice. I can't see why this is particularly sensitive information. Also, the total claim for that month still includes that sum, so if I was to publish the redacted version people would be wondering what on earth the missing £1200 was spent on. I also don't see why it's necessary to redact the names of the places where I bought things, or the dates - e.g. there's a receipt from Purves and Purves from 30th December 2005. Everything on that receipt has been redacted by the Fees Office, except the amount. Obviously I'd want my credit card details kept private, but I don't have a problem with people knowing where I purchased something from or the fact I waited until the end of year sales to do so!
As for the IEP (office costs) allowances - the bundles of paper are huge. The claims forms are of two types - direct payment to suppliers, and reimbursement of MPs' expenditure. I don't think the first type (C2) is particularly interesting, it's mostly receipts from Banner, the parliamentary stationery suppliers, and office bills. The second type (C1) usually includes these items: office cleaner, mobile phone, surgery room hire, petty cash and a direct debit for the office electricity. Depending on how complicated it turns out to be to do the ACA forms, I'll then do C2 and C1 forms, in that order, but without all the receipts (or the Banner receipts at least - I can assure you I don't have a sideline in selling paper clips and staplers on the black market). I would stress that these are going to be published by mid-June anyway so I'm not hiding anything, I'm just trying to keep a balance between accountability and getting on with the day job.
Gordon Brown is speaking at the PLP again tonight, at 6pm. That makes two weeks in a row, which is unprecedented.