Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Parliamentary pressures

Malcolm, still picking at the scab of the Derek Conway business (see previous two posts) meditated overnight on one further aspect.

It took a full term of gestation since last May for the Standards and Privileges Committee to pronounce on what, superficially, seems an open-and-shut case. Even so the Committee dealt with only a small part of Conway's abuses.

Few of our highly-paid journos took less than twenty-four hours to re-read the original Sunday Times story that lifted the lid on much of the rest.

Last evening the BBC's Newsnight programme had Paxo poking at the ordure, asking how many other MPs were remunerating family members out of their allowances. Their researcher's brief troll turned up that some 5% of all MPs had persons of the same name on the payroll. Being the lawyer-ridden, even-handed BBC, no serious allegations were made: instead we had Danny Finkelstein being emollient, and Alistair Graham being guardedly Northumbrian. However, two significant points did emerge, both from Paxman:
  • What would an Italian or an East European politician think about this?
  • Employing family is not permitted in the United States Congress.
Both seem valid.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Nick Robinson is back on the case:
Are there more family businesses such as "Conway PLC" earning tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money from working in the House of Commons?

The answer is we do not and cannot know. The reason for that is the House of Commons, led by the Speaker, has consistently blocked attempts to reveal basic information such as the names of the staff MPs employ, whether they are their relatives of their employers and what they are paid...
He rightly links to the Times blog-spot, Sam Coates's the Red Box. Coates is suggesting that the Speaker's powers to choke off scrutiny may be open to legal challenge, and has a truly-enlightening quip from the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Mackay, about the Freedom of Information Act:
Obviously the draftsmen decided, just in case something escaped and there is one last fish in the sea, let us get it with a grenade; and this is the grenade.
When a senior lawman proffers an obiter dictum like that, it would seem to be an urgent invitation to have the thing judicially reviewed.

One last thought: in the matter of pay to MP's nearest-and-dearest, we might get somewhere by reviewing to whom Parliamentary passes are issued. This is readily (if tediously) done through the Register of Interests of Members' Secretaries and Research Assistants. Spouses receive passes as a matter of course, so that's not immediately helpful with the likes of the Conway menage.

And, what about the sub-rosa and extra-marital connections, all those Belles (and Beaux) de Jour? (Ah, Malcolm! We were wondering how you justify the piccy of the luscious Catherine!) Sphere: Related Content

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