3 Principles we are asking Speaker candidates to endorse: You can help right now

Speakers Chair (Parliamentary Copyright)
Speaker’s Chair (Parliamentary Copyright)

mySociety has today emailed (and in one case, posted) a set of 3 Principles which we believe it is important that all candidates for Speaker endorse, before the election of a new Speaker by MPs.

1. Voters have the right to know in detail about the money that is spent to support MPs and run Parliament, and in similar detail how the decisions to spend that money are settled upon.

2. Bills being considered must be published online in a much better way than they are now, as the Free Our Bills campaign has been suggesting for some time.

3. The Internet is not a threat to a renewal in our democracy, it is one of its best hopes. Parliament should appoint a senior officer with direct working experience of the power of the Internet who reports directly to the Speaker, and who will help Parliament adapt to a new era of transparency and effectiveness.

We will be posting the status of requests on the likely candidates web pages where we expect large numbers of people to see them before the vote in late June. We have also taken the unusual step of allowing possible candidates to leave a statement of up to 150 words on the principles.

(NB no candidates have actually declared at this stage, so we are starting with the BBC’s list of possibles)

Rationale

mySociety helped lead the campaign back in January to prevent the last ditch attempts to conceal MPs’ expenses. We did so not because, like the newspapers, we wanted to revel in embarrassment and scandal, but because we believe that in the Internet age, the only way for our democracy and government to thrive is if they are open and connected to the net as the rest of us expect them to be. The dramatic events seen in Parliament in recent days vindicate the view that secrecy breeds poor policies and seeds untrustworthy behaviour in the weaker willed.

Furthermore, more than a simple attitude of openness is required of the new Speaker: the public needs a genuine will to push for technological reform using the power of the Internet that will take both open-mindedness and a willing to tread on toes, especially in some parts of the unelected establishment.

Case in point: Over the last two years we have been trying to persuade Parliament to acknowledge that the way it publishes its Bills online is hopelessly inadequate for the Internet age. The campaign has faltered, despite multi partly endorsement from 140 MPs and a campaign membership of thousands. To see why, just take a look at this colourful and error-crammed internal email that we uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act, published for the first time today.

The new Speaker will have a tough job on their hands to overcome resistance of this kind. The best thing we can do is help the new Speaker, whoever they are, assume their new job with a clear mandate from the public, as well as from members.

Act!

That is why, as a final part of this call, we are asking you, our community, to write to your MP today to let them know that you expect them to vote for a candidate that has endorsed the principles above. Your voices to your own constituency MPs can resonate in a way that no blog post or newspaper article ever can. Go to it.

27 Comments

  1. 1. Voters have the right to know in detail about the money that is spent to support MPs and run Parliament, and in similar detail how the decisions to spend that money are settled upon.

    ———–

    The problem here is that it doesn’t handle the case of Equitable Life. Here the Ombudsman has found against the government. However, the government is resisting like mad release of the information.

    The reason is pretty likely to be that there has been a cover up, and lies told by the government, in order that people carried on contributing to Equitable Life. All caused by a failure of regulation.

    If that information was in the public domain, people could have protected themselves, and sued in the courts for compenstation.

    Nick

  2. Michael Parker

    Re 3. I totally agree with the sentiment, but you have fallen into the lazy trap of equating the Commons to Parliament. You either want to have the Commons appointing someone who reports directly to the Speaker, or you have both Houses appointing someone who reports to both Speakers. I think you’ll find the former to be more likely to occur, and you might want to think about changing the text of your principle to reflect this?

    (I appreciate the Lords needs a similar kick, but at least (in the Information Committee inquiry and things like Lords of the Blog) they are drifting in the right direction.)

  3. @Michael Parker: I agree with including the Peers in this, and the principles should be amended accordingly.

    I wonder what the so-called “Digital Engagement Team” in the Cabinet Office is doing?

    Lots of tools have sprung up around the data that’s already available.

  4. Here’s what I wrote to my MP [brief personal intro excluded]:

    Friday 22 May 2009

    Dear Andrew,

    Much has been said and written at MPs’ expense (if you will excuse the pun), yet the proposals by government and MPs do not evidence any understanding of the source of this disquiet.

    My own view is that our plunging faith in institutions such as yours (and banks) might be remedied if citizens/taxpayers are able to participate more actively in regulating the activities of those institutions. This ‘human element’ is a very significant feature of the online e-commerce and networking platforms today, which are far more ‘porous’ in terms of their interaction with users than their offline counterparts, and a great deal more trusted in terms of brand and so on as a result. They know that they have no choice but to adapt to user requirements and criticism, whereas long-established institutions are
    beguiled into believing that their past makes them safely impervious.

    So please throw your weight behind the various initiatives that are seeking to ensure that members of both Houses of Parliament publish their expenses (and other interests) online in a form that makes them able to be readily evaluated by constituents.

    Please email me if you wish to discuss this further.

    Yours sincerely,

    Simon Deane-Johns

  5. You are quite right, I made a mistake in point 3 by saying ‘Parliament’ not the ‘Commons’. Unfortunately I cannot ask them to change the wording of what they’ve endorsed, so my error will have to remain. Apologies.

  6. Simon – because it’s really not fair on people to ask them to sign something, get them to think about it, and then go moving the goal posts. It’s the same reason that Pledge creators on PledgeBank.com can’t edit their pledges after they have been signed by the first users.

  7. Clearly the process of agreeing key principles – and the candidates for Speaker – will have to be more flexible if we’re going to achieve the broad procedural and cultural changes required. It will be interesting to see whether candidates volunteer to go further than asked. With any luck they have valid ideas of their own ;-)

  8. Margaret Short

    Dear Tom,

    Just a thought. Since you have only approached those potential candidates for Speaker identified by the BBC, no MPs having declared at this stage, perhaps as and when candidates formally declare, would be the time to ask each one to sign up for the principles as amended. The distinction between the attitude of the House of Commons and the House of Lords to the issue of full disclosure of expenses is significant. After all, David Maclean’s private members bill passed the first stage in the HoC on 18th May 2007 with very significant labour and conservative support, including that of senior conservative party members and in the case of Labour, with the support of the then Chief Whip, Jacqui Smith. Norman Baker’s amendments left no MP who voted in favour of Maclean’s Bill under any misapprehension that it’s real object was protection of MPs’ expenses from full public disclose. His bill would have exempt both Houses. It was only because the Lords took an honourable stand that the bill failed because it could find no sponsor.

  9. I think a root and branch overhaul of the whole system is more appropriate rather than tinkering with bills and receipts.
    For example, MPs and Lords whose constituency (or main home) lies outside the M25 should be provided with free basic accommodation along the lines of a typical Travelodge room and meals like those at Little Chef. Many other people have to survive on less luxurious appointments.
    On their first entry to Parliament, they should be required to state once and for all whether they wish to avail themselves of this provision or fend for themselves at their own expense.
    The ideal site for such accommodation would have been the redundant Guards Barracks in Birdcage Walk which would have the advantage of not requiring any travel expense – unless they were to claim for shoe leather!
    This would eliminate the whole corrupt business of second homes and fraudulent claims. It would also obviate the need for the bureaucracy that examines the expense claims.
    I would allow them a basic phone/TV/Internet package and some reasonable allowance (in kind – not money) for official stationery, and postage via a franking machine within the palace of Westminster.
    The total budget for Parliament should be a fixed sum once and for all, so that if they wish to raise salaries, they much economise elsewhere, eg reducing the number of MPs and Lords aboard the gravy train. With inflation, this would have the effect of reducing the total cost in real terms as their work diminishes following the abdication of most of their responsibilities to Brussels and Strasbourg.
    Travel to and from their constituency should be provide by a second class rail card or, if they opt for car travel, reimbursement on a monthly basis at the same rate as the train fare.
    They should be required to sign in daily and their salary reduced pro rata if they fail to meet some specified minimum attendance – falling to zero if they do not attend at all as is the case with some Ulster MPs.
    The basic principle should be that no MP or Lord should ever be trusted with money. If any should object, there is clearly no shortage of other people willing to do the job.

  10. Sorry, ‘much’ above should read ‘must’, thus:
    “The total budget for Parliament should be a fixed sum once and for all, so that if they wish to raise salaries, they must economise elsewhere, eg reducing the number of MPs and Lords aboard the gravy train.”

  11. These are principles for Parliament as a whole, and not just for the lower chamber.

    Given the propensity for the placemen in the Lords to also assist with their costs, I don’t see any error whatsoever. It is a sad comment that whilst Foulkes was busy attacking (in defense of the unspeakable – there should be no question of an automatic nomination to the so-called best club in London), his own nest was being feathered quite nicely – from the Sunday Herald:

    http://members5.boardhost.com/medialens/msg/1242156768.html

  12. I have struggle some 6 years now re public sector corruption. There is a need that the public be informed of the depth of ‘inner squalor’. I complained about being corruptly handled by a Revenue employee (went back and forth)5 years later I faced Revenue barristers and lawyers, neither the miscreant nor her excecutive were present to be questioned.I am an 83 year old war pensioner who once fought for democracy.
    My case is much broader than this; I appealled to Ministry of Justice for ‘open courts’ to escape corrup government complaint procedures etc etc. Please check my website

  13. Barry Skelhorn

    David12.
    I have long thought that government owned “Block” accomadation and office space should be supplied on take it or leave it basis. Basic furnishing and basic travel expence. So your ideas are in line with my own thinking. With free accomadation and office space with basic fone and internet access. In fact the same as any other government Office. A manager to oversee the use of facilitys and no need for expenses. London Homes should then be sold and the government / tax payer refunded all proceeds except any reasonable contribution made by the MP.
    On the issue of MP homes, The MP should live within his/her Constituancy and this would become the only home that the MP should be concerned with. It should also be paid for fully by that particular MP (no allowances or perks)
    MP’s must live within a very generous Salary. If that is not sufficient then don’t stand.
    Then the next step involves sorting out greedy Peers and MEP’s. The gravy train has reached the station, now the passengers must get of and earn their keep in the real world.

  14. Robert Williams

    Hello defenders of democracy
    I agree with those who suggest a permanent home for all MP’s in London. The idea of a housing block is, in principle, a great one. An “upmarket ghetto” may be the answer; however, if I may make a sggestion as to location – part of the East End is being thoroughly ripped apart and renewed by the 2012 Olympics construction. This is a huge site under developmemt and our glorious leaders will no doubt be keeping us up to date with the cost increases as they inevitably happen.
    Why not add a suitably attractive, technologically equipped housing block where they can all live, work and entertain their political contacts? There could be a small extension to the Docklands Light Rail (ecologically sound) which would give them a commute that cuts pollution. The Thames is another good route to get to work. David Cameron would probably still use his bike, as long as the longer trip does not leave him without the breath to continue his ferocious wttacks upon poor GB.
    It’s a thought folks.

  15. I agree with the above but would like to add the following comment.
    Why dont we have a real democracy like the Swiss where we the people of the nation decide if a bill is right for us or not. This is the road to true democracy,not the present system.

  16. REGINALD STEERS

    As you no doubt appreciate, public faith and confidence in anyone with anything to do with British Politics and their politicians, has for a very long time taken a severe battering.

    Only the party which does the best job of, restoring public faith in them, will succeed.

    This does not necessarily mean, the Speaker should automatically have a political background. In fact, it is essential, if not downright imperative, that he is not in politics.

    Their are an abundance of most suitable people in the public domain, who are more than capable of performing better than the last Speaker. A great candidate would be a (just) retired ‘Regimental Sergeant Major’ Who better to keep MPs in-line and discipline them which step out of line.

    Yours ever

    Reg Steers

  17. “… Their are an abundance of most suitable people in the public domain, who are more than capable of performing better than the last Speaker.”

    I have an abundance of firewood more capable than the last speaker.

    Tym.

  18. Good work – I hope this actually happens…
    Some comments on the email you unearthed (their text bold, if formatting works on this system. Same comment added more legibly to flickr).

    Re: a permanent historical identifier ON THE INTERNET that never changes… we do this already they are called clause and schedule numbers

    you: “Mistake: we’re CLEARLY asking for permalinked URLs here”

    me: may not be that clear to a non-semantic-web-aware person? Maybe they are thinking of something that shows up on a page (text like “(1)(a)(iv)” perhaps), rather than something directly addressable.

    And do clause and schedule numbers provide the necessary version control (eg an amendment that replaces clause (b) with a differently worded one, or deletes clauses 1(a)(ii) – 1(a)(iv)…)? If they do during the committee and later reading stages, is there a rationalising and renumbering so that the final bill is consecutively numbered – in which case, clause numbers are no longer sufficient to permanently identify a bit of a bill.

    Re: Explanatory notes could be placed and read right next to the relevant parts of the bill themselves

    me: could they be thinking you intend that THEY write and place the notes – and are you suggesting data structures that allow third parties to place notes – on third party sites? You could be at cross purposes? Or are you just suggesting that the notes they write can be rearranged automatically / on demand to a more convenient location for the reader?

    … this is something we are ready to do already…

    you: “Mistake: No they don’t”

    me: they didn’t say they did – they said they were ready to. Weasel words, perhaps, or maybe they are planning to do it or trying to get permission, or working out who should add them. They did mention they wanted to maintain neutrality of interpretation – are they thinking of notes they write?

  19. Michael Parker

    @13 I agree they are for Parliament as a whole, but despite thinking that it does, the lower house does not control the upper house. As Tom, understandably, doesn’t want to change this text, maybe a solution would be for MySociety to ask the Lord Speaker to endorse a similar text at the same time?

  20. Duncan Tribute

    As regards accommodating out of town MPs when in London, it would have been sensible to have acquired a part of the old GLC County Hall building, (now broken down into various hotel units), for provision of permanent serviced apartments assigned for Members’ use. Failing that, surely we have a prison ship or two spare that could be moved up and moored alongside the Houses of Parliament, to provide accommodation for out of town MPs.

  21. Fardijah Freedman

    I fully agree with your correspondent no.16,about having a housing unit for MPs from out of London to stay in.Maybe there could be visitor units for hire for visiting families and friends short-term?

  22. The issue of Parliamentary Copyright also needs to be addressed. The copyright terms need to be relaxed so that anyone can reproduce any Parliamentary documents (including for commercial purposes) without charge. That is something like a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license should be used.

  23. I’ve been told by the Hansard Society that their hustings for Speaker candidates will be filmed and broadcast on BBC Parliament.

    The broadcast time has not yet appeared on the schedules, and the Hansard Society have told me they don’t know when it will be broadcast yet either.

  24. RE David 12′s proposals, I would agree with the suggestions made save with four additions:
    1. Security is an important proviso.
    2. A self-catering apartment would be required and not just a travelodge room. Where the accommodation is shared by two MPs and also possibly their children, the flat space needs to reflect that.
    3. There should also be the flexibility that MPs that become ministers (who by nature of their government work are required to have London as their main address) may not have chosen to have a second ‘place of residence’ in London and that flexility to make that later option seems necessary. The Lab, Con and LD party leaders also need to reside in London.
    4. Some food/subsistence/’hospitality’ allowance remains necessary. I suggest £50-100pw is sufficient. MPs do have to talk to others, so whilst they should set up normal provisions at home for their own use and at their own expense, a hospitality allowance is OK.