Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 3 April 2009

Labour MPs will regret the groans and jeering

I missed PMQs this week and have only just caught up with watching it this morning. I have to say that what Cameron led on is exactly what I have been saying regarding MPs expenses. I have reproduced the relevant portion from Hansard below (although you really need to watch it to hear the barracking from 33 minutes in for about 4 minutes here):

Mr. David Cameron (Witney) (Con): On behalf of all Conservative Members, I join the Prime Minister in welcoming President Obama and the First Lady, and all the other Presidents and Prime Ministers, to our country this week.

Before turning to the G20, may I ask the Prime Minister about the issue of MPs’ expenses? [ Interruption. ] MPs may groan, but frankly I am fed up with our politics being dragged through the mud. We need a solution that is transparent, costs less than the current arrangements, and restores faith in the political process. Is it not the case that we cannot wait for another review, and that this needs to be agreed now? So instead of another review, will the Prime Minister agree to an urgent meeting between the main party leaders so that we can sort this out once and for all?

The Prime Minister: I agree and have said on many occasions that this whole system has to be reformed and improved. I think that there is common ground in this House that it brings no repute to MPs if we are continually having to deal with these issues. We have made some changes, by the will of the House, to the way that expenses are documented, to the way that the Green Book is organised, and to the way that people are obliged to account for their expenditures of money. Both the parties agreed that the Committee on Standards in Public Life could do a good job in looking at these
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issues. Of course I am happy to meet the leaders of the Opposition parties to discuss this, but to restore public confidence in the matter the Committee will have to complete its review as well, and I have asked it to speed up that review so that it is completed as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: Frankly, the problem is that we do not need another review. Let us be clear: this is exactly what happened last time. The Prime Minister supported a review, he sent it a letter and when it came up with conclusions, he did not vote for them. [Hon. Members: “Nor did you.”] I did vote for them. The public are sick and tired of this situation, and it requires political leadership. That means political leaders making decisions, which means the Prime Minister, the leader of the Liberals and me. I ask the Prime Minister again: will he have that meeting of party leaders so that we can sort this out? May we have it, instead of a review, not in six months’ time, not in a year’s time, but right now?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman wrote his question before he heard my first answer. I said I was quite happy to meet him and the leader of the Liberal party to discuss these issues, but he has to remember that if we in this House are to command public confidence for what we do, we need to satisfy the Committee on Standards in Public Life as well as ourselves. The whole purpose of the discussions we have had in recent years is to take MPs’ pay out of politics, so that it is not MPs who are held responsible for the original recommendations on pay, or for voting for them. I believe that we have to satisfy more than ourselves on the standards we apply in public life. Yes, I am prepared to talk to the right hon. Gentleman, but he should agree to what was agreed before: that the Committee on Standards in Public Life should continue to review this issue and report as quickly as possible.

Mr. Cameron: The problem is that we can all hear the rustling of the long grass.

It's good to see Cameron following Nick Clegg's lead on this. He was the first party leader to suggest a meeting between the three leaders to try and sort this all out and I welcome the Tory support for this.

Cameron is spot on about the sound of the long grass and the need for urgent reform. The groans and the jeering from Labour MPs when Cameron started his question demonstrate how out of touch they are. If they had any sense of the public feeling about this issue they would shut up and listen hard to the suggestions being made. This should not be a party political football, it is damaging our democracy and needs to be fixed and quickly.

I suspect members of the public will have been disgusted with this sort of response to sensible suggestions about reform of how our money is spent.

It was also heartening to hear Nick Clegg go for Brown on tax havens, the lack of a green stimulus and the wasteful VAT cut, call of which I fully agree with and I did not feel Brown's platitudes addressed his questions. As usual.

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