A few weeks ago, long before Amber Rudd had lied to Parliament or resigned I signed this Parliamentary petition known as number 203502 which was headed ‘Make it illegal for any MP to lie in parliament or knowingly deceive the public’ and went on ‘Repeal Parliamentary Privilege and reform Contempt of Parliament to make it illegal for MPs to lie or knowingly deceive the public in the execution of their duties. This must include campaigning and all statements made in Parliament or the media. Breach of this condition must trigger a by-election.’ Sadly by the end of the 6 month period just less than 20,000 signatures were attached to it. The response from the Government however makes me feel concerned about what Parliamentary Privilege is, something I confess I did not fully appreciate until I received a copy of the response. One of the paragraphs in the response states:
‘Parliamentary privilege refers to the range of freedoms and protections each House of Parliament needs to function effectively. In brief, it comprises the right of each House to control its own proceedings and precincts, and the right of those participating in parliamentary proceedings, whether or not they are Members, to speak freely without fear of legal liability or other reprisal.’
The need for our Parliament, in terms of both Houses to be treated with respect and listened to as representing the leadership of our nation is clear if we are to retain some credibility within the rest of the world. The need for reform of both Houses in terms of their size and the basis for their selection in the case of the House of Lord is evident and will help restore some of the needed respect. However this respect which must begin in the many communities across the UK is something that also depends on a meaningful level of accountability to the nation as a whole, not on pure self governance. The way in which a company operates or a charity is that the board of directors or Trustees have enormous power and influence, in the same way as our Parliament, but they are deemed to be accountable to their shareholders or members and in the case of a charity the people who benefit from the work of the charity. They are also both accountable to regulators which are seen as Independent of the Shareholders and the beneficiaries, but these bodies are intended to ensure that rules get followed and have the power to suspend people from such important roles if necessary. These regulators include Companies House and the Charity Commission as well as Parliament which sets up both regulators. Parliament itself with a small number of exceptions lacks this aspect as the phrase above indicates. The main exception is that of expense claims, something which was established following the scandal of MPs expenses. This led to the creation of IPSA which is the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. If IPSA was extended to cover a wider range of themes, then I believe this would achieve the outcome I am in favour of. Not because I have had any experience of how IPSA works, but because the name indicates it is doing what a regulator should be doing.
One of the elements of the House of Commons that for me is most concerning relating to its abilities to control its own proceedings, is the way in which two political parties so dominate the House. Even in the Lords, they have a major grip on power. Having stood in an election against an array of political parties, it was noticeable that the political parties (namely the coalition government) which got to set the rules, ensured that the rules favoured political parties at the expense of other candidates. Whilst IPSA may not be suited to the task needed, it should not take much to change it to take a wider role that for example calls into question, the lies told by Ministers and MPs without damaging the need for Parliament to be a safe place. When MPs and Ministers clearly break rules that would lead to them being held to account by Parliament or another regulator, if they were carrying out their actions outside of Parliament, it puts Parliament rather than the individual at greatest risk of reprisal by the nation as a whole. It is for this reason we need a new IPSA that will provide a check or balance to the actions of Politicians without compromising the importance of their words and proposals.