Freesteel Blog » Parliament crash-lands in the green stuff

Parliament crash-lands in the green stuff

Saturday, January 17th, 2009 at 12:27 am Written by:

The most important Parliamentary news yesterday was Geoff Hoon, currently the Transport Secretary, spewing awesomely huge lies to justify decisions that will take away vast numbers of human lives, allbeit over a longer term than the million or so lives that have been lost over the Iraq war, for which he lied morning, noon and night for about a year.

There’s always a compromise:

[W]e intend that new slots at Heathrow will have to be green slots. Only the cleanest planes will be allowed to use the new slots that will be made available.

Yes, and baby seals will be clubbed to death for only three days a month, so you’ve got 90% of what you wanted, haven’t you?

The entire policy continues to rest on the Air Transport White Paper which was as wrong five years ago when it was written as it is now, because:

The long-term real GDP growth assumption for the UK used in calculating forecasts was 2.25 per cent per annum… Aviation fuel prices were assumed to stabilise at $25 per barrel in real terms in year 2000 prices.

But in politics the connection between the policy and its justification is broken once the “right” answer has been established, and anyway back then we needed more air travel because the economy was booming. Now we need more air travel because we’re in a recession. In either case the air travel lobby buys a better dinner for the Minister.

But that’s not the real news out of Parliament yesterday. The news they failed to bury, but which all the newspapers picked up on (going to show that they don’t really care about the wrath of the press when it comes to something really important, like their own expenses) was announced:

[N]ext Thursday there will be a statutory instrument on freedom of information, followed by motions. The draft statutory instrument is in the Table Office and the motions are on the Order Paper.

Apparently the poor hard-pressed officials are struggling with the requirements of having to scan and redact a million pages of receipts in order to comply with a final high court ruling from May 2008. Far easier to say it’s too difficult and change the law than deal with the issue of what the heck these expenses claims are doing on scrappy little bits of paper in the first place.

One imagines that the refunds are made to their bank accounts electronically and in a timely manner (since they are the boss), so how hard would it be to enter the claims into a simple web-form so everything is above board and not lost in a blizzard of scrappy paperwork? They do know we don’t trust them, don’t they?

Let’s recap. In 2000 the UK finally got its Freedom of Information Act, decades after equivalent laws had been passed in all other civilized countries. It didn’t go into force until 2005, at which point Heather Brooke began fighting for public accountability for MP’s expense claims, which citizens have by right from officials in America.

The MPs, especially the Speaker, have been fighting the case constantly, howling at how unfair it is, while demonstrating at every step of the way that they are incapable of preventing corruption when these matters are kept confidential, and are only pretending at being honourable gentlemen.

In 2007 there was one underhanded attempt to change the law when David Maclean MP introduced a Private Members Bill to exempt the House of Commons and MPs from everything to do with the Freedom of Information Act and repeatedly lied that the Bill was protect private correspondence relating to a constituent being released against their will.

How do we know this was a lie? Firstly, all the legal experts (without a conflict of interest relating to the involuntary disclosure of their personal expenses) said the Freedom of Information Act wouldn’t allow this. And secondly, when this precise concern was addressed so that constituents’ communications would be explicitly exempt, but MPs’ expenses were not, they voted against it! And then the Government got caught lying about how they had no position on the Bill when a suspicious number of ministers turned up to vote on a Friday afternoon in order over-ride a filibuster.

Gordon Brown, who was about to ascend to the office of the Prime Minister, pretended to be above the fray, until he briefly saw the light while on a holiday in Wales ten days later.

But now he’s older and wiser he’s going to just get it done through an Executive Order, known in this country as a Statutory Instrument. The Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 says (approximately):

The Secretary of State makes the following Order in exercise of the powers conferred by Section 7(3)(a) and (b) of the Freedom of Information Act.

Substitute paragraph 2(d) for:

    “(d) information relating to any expenditure in respect of which–
    (i) a claim has been made to either House of Parliament by a member of either House, or
    (ii) a payment has been made by either House of Parliament to or on behalf of a member of either House.”

Hmm. There is no part(d) in paragraph 2 of Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act. All it says is:

2. The House of Commons.

However, with some nimble web-searching I discovered an earlier Statutory Instrument called The Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008:

In paragraph 2, after “The House of Commons” insert–

    “, in respect of information other than–
    (a) information relating to any residential address of a member of either House of Parliament,
    (b) information relating to travel arrangements of a member of either House of Parliament, where the arrangements relate to travel that has not yet been undertaken or is regular in nature,
    (c) information relating to the identity of any person who delivers or has delivered goods, or provides or has provided services, to a member of either House of Parliament at any residence of the member,
    (d) information relating to expenditure by a member of either House of Parliament on security arrangements.

    Paragraph (b) does not except information relating to the total amount of expenditure incurred on regular travel during any month.”

You track enough of these down and you get the feeling that the compiling of the law is about as obscure, unnaccountable and deliberately disorganized as MPs’ expense claims.

That’s why we need to support the free our bills campaign, because the problem is even worse than anyone can imagine. It should be a “just give us a goddamn copy of the law!” campaign.

It’s unacceptable. As you can see, the statute law database for the Freedom of Information Act doesn’t have that change updated, so how is anyone going to know?

I’ve an idea: Except in exceptional circumstances, no law can apply until it is committed to the Statute Law Database. (The Freedom of Information Act was delayed by 5 years from going into force, so it shouldn’t be a problem.)

And similarly, until an MP’s expense claim has been declared on-line and in the public domain, it doesn’t get reimbursed.

I’ll bet they would quickly discover how easy it is to organized these things efficiently if that was the case.

1 Comment

  • 1. Freesteel&hellip replies at 20th January 2009, 4:03 pm :

    […] on from my earlier rant, the momentum is increasing in time for a vote this […]

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