Many people were worried – as I was – that the Government motion to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act might be forced through by Government Whips, as threatened. The High Court has ordered certain information to be published and that is what must happen. It would be wrong for Parliament to act retrospectively to stop this. Of course, publishing 1.2 million records is a task and will cost £2 million, but I think the Courts must be respected. I do wonder if there might not be a better simpler system for MPs’ Pay and Allowances and for making the details public.
I was glad the Government backed down in the face of opposition from all parts of the House and in the country.
But as I pointed out in the debate (click here to see the Hansard), one good thing is that there will now be proper audit with an external element to check the accuracy of MPs’ claims and this is a step forward.
I am a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which upholds the Seven Principles for Public Life established when the Committee was chaired by Lord Nolan: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. I was glad to have the chance to make the point in yesterday’s debate on new rules on Members of Parliaments’ allowances that MPs must set an example and follow these high standards.
Our Committee will be looking at the latest changes to the rules in February and considering whether an Inquiry is needed into the whole Pay and Allowances’ System to ensure that the Seven Principles are met. The advantage would be that our Committee is made up of ten independent individuals from many walks of life – with only three political appointees – and could give a fresh insight. The public might also find the system more worthy of respect if independently proposed and approved. It will be an interesting discussion. Parliament is sovereign and will ultimately decide the matter, but the Scottish Parliament did find an independent report on this helpful in making their decisions on their structure of Pay and Allowances for MSPs.