Monday, 18 May 2009

Update

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.

21 comments:

Catosays said...

Martin has done the House no favours today with his shambling, mendacious display.

It's time this rogue was gone.

Pointer2null said...

Unless there has been some obvious fiddle* I can't see the office expenses (C1 & C2) being of much interest unless you own an envelope factory.



* employing hubby for £1524362653/year to empty waste bins etc

SteveL said...

-Change the grey to black, print them and rescan the document. There's still an attack which compares the length of blacked out regions with the length of english language words printed in the same font to come up with a good guess of a word or two, but it's weaker against numbers.

Now, a question: is the reason that everyone is picking on the speaker a way of blaming him as opposed to accepting their own responsibility, or is it an attempt at change?

Glenn Vowles said...

The Speaker should protect and defend democracy not protect and defend the House of Commons.

Kerry said...

On a vaguely related point Glenn, it was mentioned at tonight's PLP that Caroline Lucas has always steadfastly refused to publish her expenses. Why is that?

Kerry said...

Sorry, should have responded to others. P2N - I agree, but unless I publish some will say that how can they tell there's not been an obvious fiddle?

SteveL - it's a bit of both. It's been noted that whenever the Telegraph's focus switches to the Tories, they raise the volume of their protests about the Speaker. But there is also genuine concern that he's not the guy to steer through change. And some of it is just a case of those who never thought he should have got the job in the first place scenting blood. Incidentally do you know who one of the Tory front-runners for the Speaker's job was when Michael Martin was elected? Derek Conway. Now that would have been interesting....

Bevanite said...

maybe because her green hypocrisy extends beyond jetting all over the world for meetings while castigating those who take a yearly holiday, by aeroplane, abroad?

MEPs are the worst... maybe the Telegraph could extend its investigation to Ms Lucas, Mr Hannan and the like?

Dick the Prick said...

This is getting quite brutal. Strangest thing i've seen in a long while. Hey ho - it's the spending cuts & tax rises that people are worried about.

Wage augmentation is a bloody good thing. I wish the public sector people above £40K would just take a 15% pay cut not to go under £38k or whenever the 40% tax kicks in - just to make stuff easier for themselves. Say a lot of hassle.

Unions are getting screwed with litigation claims anyway - in their present form - they've become a busted flush.

Time to reorganize stuff for 21st Century democracy really so somewhere around 1850 will do for a start.

thebristolblogger said...

I shall be writing to Ms Lucas requesting her details of her expenses in the next few days. (Vowlsie told me to do it)

I'll let you know the response ...

marksany said...

Kerry, change the grey to black, then press "print screen" or "prt scr" button. Open MS Paint and paste the image in. You now have a bitmap with all trace of the original text removed, you can do the blacking in here instead if you like. Save as a JPEG and the job's a good-un! I do this all he time at work, copying the screen to get a clean image is a handy trick.

The Grim Reaper said...

You were burgled, you say? I'm curious for more details about that now.

Madasafish said...

Nice post.

Having watched Monday's farce in the HOC , are all proceedings so successful in resembling an asylum or do the inhabitants ever enter the real world?

I ask because Norway meant nothing to me (nor the Speaker evidently), the points of order resembled a school debating club - and the refusal to debate says to me it's a farce.

Want to encourage the BNP? You are doing a grand job. MPs should review that clip and realise they look:
out of touch
incompetent
and slime balls.

I know it's unfair. I know there are lots of decent , hard working MPs etc. BUT you appear a bunch of mindless play acting idiots.

Pleas get a grip or we are going - as voters- to vote in some Party we will regret - the BNP.

So far you are ALL doing a grand job of bringing Parliament into even more disrepute.In despair and disgust

stephen said...

Having just returned to "Chateau Beaufort" from 3 weeks in the USA where dispite having given us 24/7 CNN getting some news of the world(excuse the pun) on TV is a mind numbing experience I picked up the Sunday Times at Heathrow and had an instant mise à jour of the flipping antics in both houses----a plague on both of them perhaps?.American Pork Barrel politics chez nous???
I feel very sorry for those MPs who have played fair(and by that I mean not just by “the rules”- the Nuremberg defence?) but will be tarred with the same brush at the upcoming Euro/local elections.
There has been a leak of the exam question for this years would be PPE candidates Oxbridge :“Only one man entered parliament with honest intentions and that was Guy Fawkes” Discuss.
ps Tony Benn for speaker please!

Bristol Dave said...

maybe because her green hypocrisy extends beyond jetting all over the world for meetings while castigating those who take a yearly holiday, by aeroplane, abroad?Sounds like Polly Toynbee to me.

Bevanite said...

Bristol Dave,
how dare you. That woman is a saint, and I won't have a bad word said about her.

Kerry said...

Grim reaper - explain your burglary comment.

Kelvin Blake said...

Too many self serving MP's trying to divert the attention off of them to the speaker.

That said I do now think it was probably the right decision for him to go.

What I want to see is MP's who have totally taken advantage be deselected and in some cases prosecuted. And I want this whole issue to be put to bed so we can get on with dealing with the real issues of the day like fixing the economy to stop people losing their jobs and homes!

Bristol Dave said...

Oh, by the way;

"The case against John Bercow in Numbers" has been published on Guido's blog:

http://www.order-order.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/bercow.gif

Kerry said...

Interesting that you look to Guido for a barometer of probity... Frankly, if Guido is against him then that's settled it - let's get the Bercow bandwagon rolling! (PS I think joint 1st is a position shared by many, many MPs - the devil, as they say, is in the detail).

Glenn Vowles said...

Kerry you are attempting to throw mud at Caroline Lucas. Is this really the best defence of the apalling behaviour of MPs of all parties you can muster??

Caroline has said the following:

Even though some long-overdue reforms are finally being made to the system of MEP expenses, they still remain open to abuse, and further changes are urgently needed. The Green Party believes that the European Parliament's expenses procedure should be much more accountable to the public, and the Green Group in the Parliament has voted time and time again for changes to the system to make it fairer, more transparent, and protected from abuse.

As long ago as 2004, Greens urged that that there should be an obligation on MEPs to provide supporting documents for at least 50% of the General Allowance - but we were unable to find a majority for this proposal in Parliament.

As a member of the cross-party Campaign for Parliamentary Reform (CPR), I have called for the introduction of an efficient and transparent system for reimbursing members' expenses. Greens have also campaigned to abolish the European Parliament's monthly move to Strasbourg, which is both hugely costly and environmentally damaging, and to improve working conditions for parliamentary staff.

Not before time, changes are finally being made to the expenses system. Thanks to the pressure brought about by the Greens and others, the rules for MEP travel allowances will be changed as of July 2009, so that MEPs will be reimbursed for the actual cost of a journey, rather than on the basis of a lump-sum - a change that Greens argued should have been introduced several years ago.

Note: There is detailed information available via
http://www.carolinelucasmep.org.uk/euro-parliament/#pay

- The Green MEPs were amongst the first to make information on expenses publicly available, and last year we took the decision to have our annual accounts fully audited. Summaries of the 2008 EP General Allowance and the auditor's certificate are published on my website. This will be the standard practice for 2009 and beyond. It has not been required, nor is it common practice, to publish every item of expenditure since 2004, and so I do not have immediate access to these accounts. However, we are currently in the process of compiling the records for previous years, and this information will be available shortly.

- In the past, I have not published a detailed breakdown of my staff costs because this would involve divulging private information about what individual employees are paid. However, in the light of the increased interest in these issues, I am now working on presenting broad information about what salary bands my staff are working within. All of my staff costs are met by the £12,000 per month allowance. I employ 3 full time and 4 part time members of staff - none of whom are family members.

- MEPs receive a daily allowance of 298 Euros, when we attend official meetings in Brussels or Strasbourg, to cover accommodation and food. Under current rules, no receipts are required since this is a lump sum payment made if MEPs sign the official register. (During official plenaries of the Parliament, the amount is halved if a Member is not present for 50% of the roll-call votes.) MEPs from different countries get paid different salaries (the same as national MPs), so this flat rate has ensured that none are at a disadvantage in the day to day working life of the Parliament. This situation is set to change under the new rules in September, from which time all MEPs will be paid the same amount.

- The Green MEPs use a service provider (the Green MEP Trust) to manage our allowances, to ensure proper accounting for the public money we receive from the European Parliament. This is an independent body, administered by a voluntary board. MEP staff are employees of the Trust, and salaries are paid direct from the European Parliament."

Kerry said...

Glenn I think you're over-reacting more than a little! I just said someone had mentioned she didn't publish her expenses. You can't have it both ways, being holier than thou about the behaviour of MPs in the main political parties but not expecting any scrutiny yourself. Fine, she's got an explanation - but we're entitled to ask, aren't we?