From the archive: The Parliamentary hypocritical oath [how accountable are they really?]
Would you be happy if each Police and Crime Commissioner had the responsibility of writing their very own Police Regulations and code of conduct? If you believed an officer had broken the law or had breached the regulations would you be satisfied with letting the Commissioner decide whether to deal with it and if so, how to deal and that no matter what his/her decision it was final?
Would you be happy if you suspected somebody within your local school, hospital, fire and rescue service or any other section of the public sector of falsifying expenses or any other financial record and the ONLY people you could trust to look into it were a group of their own peers with vested interest?
I suspect that both answers would be a big fat NO.
Why then, are we happy for this to happen when it comes to Government? The one section of the public sector which should lead by example and whose conduct and behaviour should be a model of excellence for the rest of us to follow?
With the ever increasing demand from our Government for transparency in the public sector and to overhaul the watchdogs, rules and code of conduct of just about every single area of the public sector (except themselves) I began to wonder, what rules do government have to follow? Who enforces them? Who actually writes them? Who punishes those that break them?
Let’s first take a look at HOW you make a complaint about an MP.
( I have done my best to make sure this is true and factual. I have trawled Google and read numerous documents and this is what I have found. I am open to correction and education.)
According to a parliamentary document all complaints about MP’s should be directed to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.
According to this document…
In order to encourage its Members to maintain high standards in the way they conduct parliamentary business, the House of Commons has approved a Code of Conduct and an associated set of Rules relating to the conduct of MPs. The Code sets out some general principles which apply to MPs’ conduct as holders of public office. It applies to Members in all aspects of their public lives. It does not apply to their purely private and personal lives. It aims to provide a framework within which acceptable conduct may be judged.
The thing that strikes me about this is that the code of conduct of an MP does NOT apply to their private and personal lives. This surprises me immensely. Police officers’ rules and regs and code of conduct hugely impact upon their personal and private lives and anything Police Officers do in their personal and private lives can hugely impact on their careers. It is widely known that MP’s have their fingers in a lot of pies, links to a colourful bunch of people, live expensive and luxurious lifestyles, are open to temptation and bribery and have in the past (and present) had a number of conflicting interests which would cause big issues if they were bound by similar rules to the Police or other public sectors. They are responsible for the running of this country for crying out loud so why do their rules not apply to every aspect of their lives? Further probing also shows that the rules are predominantly of a financial nature only.
The document then instructs two things when it comes to making the complaint. Firstly, it advises that you should first make the complaint to the MP in question and give him/her chance to deal themselves (like that would happen in any other area of the public sector). Secondly, it asks that if you are an MP making a complaint then you must do the “courtesy” of notifying your peer whom you have an issue with either before or at the time you make the complaint…hmmmm.
The document then goes on to issue a little warning just to make you consider your complaint by advising you that you will not be protected from legal action if your complaint is considered damaging, for example, defamation of character. Nice little touch that eh?
The Commissioner will then consider whether he can and whether he will investigate your complaint but he will not deal with the following:
• policy matters or an MP’s views or opinions
• an MP’s decision on how to handle a constituent’s case
• the funding of political parties
• alleged breaches of the separate code governing the conduct of Government Ministers
• what Members do in their purely private and personal lives
The Commissioner will not consider complaints which appear to him clearly trivial or vexatious, or which substantially repeat matters which have already been considered.
So that doesn’t leave much at all other than financial matters such as expenses and salaries.
If The Commissioner decides to run with your complaint he can either consult with the MP in question and they can then report back that the complaint is not upheld or that minor remedial action is to be taken. Alternatively the Commissioner may decide to investigate fully. In this case you will be asked to provide all available evidence. The Commissioner will then form an Investigatory Panel consisting of himself, a lawyer, an MP and the MP in question! The committee will meet in private and During this you MAY be asked to attend where you will be questioned by all parties including the MP you have complained about AND any witnesses he/she may wish to call (just remind me who is under investigation here again!!?).
Once complete The Commissioner will present his findings to the Committee on Standards who may wish to interview you further. Once reviewed this Committee will decide what action to take which may include an apology, a fine, a suspension or being expelled from the house.
The current Commissioner is Kathryn Hudson. Despite a good search on Google I found little about her other than she seems highly respected in her current and past roles. Lets look at the Committee she reports back to then. The Committee on Standards.
According to the government website the work of the Commons Committee on Standards includes deciding on complaints against individual MPs reported to them by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and oversight of the work of the Commissioner. I took a look at the members of this committee who decide on complaints against MP’s and it appears that it is made entirely of fellow MP’s. No independent members or panel, just MP’s deciding on complaints made about MP’s.
The Government have been pushing for total independence when investigating Police Officers who have received complaints of misconduct. There has been a call for less Police Officers to be involved in the investigation (or preferably none at all) into fellow officers. They state that this will ensure total impartiality and fairness and increase public confidence. I am inclined to agree to some extent but I am baffled as to why the same rule does not apply to themselves.
I have then found and read the Codes of Conduct, which again seem to only focus on finances and business interest declaration. The next set of rules is The Ministerial Code (MC).
I am happy to be corrected by anybody who is more politically educated but I understand the MC is a list of “rules” and a code of conduct which all Ministers should abide by. The code is written or re-drafted by each serving Prime Minister upon taking office and served publicly shortly afterwards. It is said to be the minimum level of standards expected from all ministers including the PM. The current MC was published by David Cameron in May 2010. It starts with a FOREWORD by the man himself in which he states
“In everything we do – the policies we develop and how we implement them, the speeches we give, the meetings we hold – we must remember that we are not masters but servants. Though the British people have been disappointed in their politicians, they still expect the highest standards of conduct. We must not let them down.”
I am sure at the time he wrote this he believed it to be true and expected to make good his promise…. Well, no, I’m not sure at all but… As you can see, 3 years on he has already fallen short of this comment and this is only the Foreword.
His Foreword ends with…
“We must be different in how we think and how we behave. We must be different from what has gone before us. Careful with public money. Transparent about what we do and how we do it. Determined to act in the national interest, above improper influence. Mindful of our duty. Above all, grateful for our chance to change our country.”
Again, some may say this has proven to be rubbish too.
Rather than type out sections I will attempt to provide screen grabs and highlight the section which I found interesting.
[See bottom of page]
In this first part I was drawn to the differences between section 1.2C and 1.2D. That ministers are reminded it is of “paramount importance” that they are “accurate and truthful” when speaking to parliament but that they only have to be “as open as possible” when it comes to the public. That those who knowingly mislead PARLIAMENT are expected to resign yet they are permitted to withhold information from the public and make them submit FOI requests. Section 1.2f seems to have been breached many times by many ministers during this government.
Section 1.5 makes me laugh when it states
“Ministers only remain in office for so long as they retain the confidence of the Prime Minister. He is the ultimate judge of the standards of behaviour expected of a Minister and the appropriate consequences of a breach of those standards.”
David Cameron, the “Ultimate Judge of standards and behaviour”. Well that says a lot doesn’t it.
Sec 3.1 states:
Ministers have a duty to ensure that influence over civil service and public appointments is not abused for partisan purposes.
Again I don’t think I need to say much on this. We see almost daily how minister are seemingly in breach of of this section.
The next section is in relation to “Minister’s Private Interests” and again, it speaks for itself so I will refrain from making any comment other than I consider several ministers to have breached this section several times.
This is a fairly heavy blog and as I have said, I have done my best to source all information from official Government sources to ensure it is all factually correct. What I have noticed is that there is in fact very little in place to “police” MP’s in the same way all other sections of the public sector are “policed”. They live by rules written and “enforced” by the Prime Minister. They are “monitored” by a group of their peers with not a single impartial, independent person amongst them. The very rules written by David Cameron have, it seems, been breached numerous times without any consequence.
Our Government seem to operate by and freely break their very own rules and re-write the laws to suit their needs. It is highly hypocritical that some of the very top public servants should behave in such an immoral and dishonest manner whilst insisting on stronger enforcement and punishment of everybody else. Some may say it is borderline tyranny. Perhaps a borderline dictatorship in many ways.
This isn’t my greatest blog but I hope it encourages you to perhaps look deeper and look at just how little this government is accountable and answerable to YOU their masters. I believe there should be an INDEPENDENT complaints committee like the IPCC. I believe that Government should be robustly scrutinised and questioned and that it is NOT acceptable for the PM himself to be in charge of holding Ministers to account. David Cameron himself stated that they are NOT masters, but servants. Just like Police Officers they should be fully answerable to us, the public they serve.
Further reading can be found here.
Cameron ends his Ministerial Code with this and so shall I. It highlights the hypocrisy better than I ever could and what makes it better is that it is signed by the man himself.
The Seven Principles of Public Life Selflessness
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
Courtesy of Snapper at The Thoughts of @CanisLupusPC