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What interesting timing.

The government has a duty to make some kind of response if an e-petition on its website passes 10,000 signatures. My own e-petition – ‘Ban MPs from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest’ – passed that point several weeks ago, but it is only now – right before Christmas, when people have many other matters on their minds – that it has been graced with a response.

And what a weak response it is!

The petition calls on the government to legislate against MPs speaking or voting in debates on matters which could lead to them, companies connected with them or donors to their political party gaining money.

The response runs as follows: “The participation of Members of Parliament in debates and votes are a matter for the rules of each House rather than for legislation.” How interesting. Every other level of government has legislation covering this – look at the Local Government Act 1972. What makes Parliament so special?

“The rules are based upon the principle of transparency: the registration and the declaration of any financial interests. In the House of Commons, the Code of Conduct requires Members to fulfil the requirements of the House relating to the registration of interests in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and to be open in drawing attention to any financial interest in proceedings of the House. The application of these rules are explained in The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members.” This raises the question: Why were these rules not applied so that, for example, Andrew Lansley could not speak on his own Health and Social Care Bill because he had received £21,000 of support from the private health company Care UK? Clearly he was in breach of the rules, and it is just as clear that no action was taken. This demonstrates the need for robust enforcement – with a criminal penalty for transgressors.

Similar rules apply in the House of Lords. These make clear that it is for Peers themselves to declare a financial interest if a reasonable person might think that their actions could be influenced by a relevant interest.

“In both Houses the respective Registers of Interests are publically available and updated regularly.” How often are they checked for accuracy?

Now we come to the meat: It would not be practicable to prevent Members speaking or voting in debates on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest or which has made donations to themselves of their party. A significant number of legislative provisions in any year may have beneficial financial implications for all or most commercial operations. The requirement proposed would impose a duty on all Members to ascertain whether a general legislative provision might be of financial benefit to particular operations in which they had an interest. There are questions as to how such a complex requirement could be policed effectively and what sanctions would apply.”

This is bunkum. There is a huge difference between legislation that is designed to help all businesses and that which is designed to improve the profitability of a particular sector – such as the healthcare sector inhabited by Care UK, in the case of Mr Lansley that I have already mentioned.

Is a particular commercial sector, or an individual company, likely to benefit from legislation? If so, have any MPs taken money from that company, or one within that sector? Have such firms contributed to the funds of the party bringing that legislation forward? If the second condition is met, then that Member should not be allowed to speak; if the third condition is met, then this is corrupt legislation and should not be allowed before Parliament. It really is that simple. How many MPs or Peers have an interest in fracking?

In fact, considering their enormous salaries, why are MPs allowed to have any other financial interests at all?

“The rules of the House of Commons already prohibit paid advocacy, so Members cannot advocate measures which are for the exclusive benefit of a body from which they receive a financial benefit.” Then why was Lansley allowed to bring forward a bill that promised to benefit Care UK?

“In other cases, where legislation or debate affects a body from which a Member receives a financial benefit, that interest must be properly registered and declared.” How often is that checked?

“In relation to political donations and election expenditure, the Government is committed to further improving transparency and accountability, so as to prevent a situation where opaque and unaccountable groups spend large sums of money attempting to influence the political system. Measures to achieve this objective are included in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill which is currently before the Parliament.” This is a Bill that has been pilloried as an example of the poorest legislation ever put before a British legislative body – it is not a good example to use in defence of a corrupt system.

That is the government’s point of view – for all that it is worth. I think we owe it to the people of the UK to respond – so let us lay this open to anybody who has an opinion.

Do you know of an instance in which the rules – as laid out in the government response published here – have been broken? Please get in touch and tell us what you know – making sure you provide as much evidence as possible. This site is not in the business of libelling honest politicians – we only like to expose those who are crooked.

Please get in touch.

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