I’m not sure the resemblance is that obvious, but that’s what Ann Treneman called me in the Times this morning. I guess it’s better than “like a Tajik with toothache”, which is what her predecessor Matthew Parris once came up with.
Anyway, at least they were reporting me, and in fact I seem to have done a clean sweep this morning, with mentions in not only the Times but the Guardian, the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and what’s more the Yorkshire Post and the Belfast Telegraph as well. all because I got a bit fed up with the creeps who seem to think it’s all right to pocket their parliamentary salary and then hire themselves out to private sector companies for £5,000 a day.
Here’s what I said in parliament yesterday:
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD):
I thank the Leader of the House for advance sight of her statement. However, I think it very unlikely that it would have been made today had it not been for the revelations in the press.
The depressing fact is that the House of Commons always has to react to what happens, rather than taking the necessary action in advance. We did the same in the case of the expenses system. We did not react in time, and we have seen the consequences. We have done the same in relation to party political funding: we have not taken the appropriate steps, and we see what is happening as a result. Now there is the issue of lobbying, which we all knew would eventually hit the newspapers.
What will our constituents think when they read that right hon. and hon. Members of this House think that they should be paid, on top of their parliamentary salary, more for two days’ work than a pensioner gets in a whole year? That is the reality of the situation. And what is that for? It is for asking a few cosy questions of their chums in government or, in the case of the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran), of what she describes as the “girls’ club”-I am not sure what that comprises. We are talking about questions being put not on behalf of constituents or the national public interest, but for the partisan commercial interest of whoever is prepared to pay the cab fare, and that cannot be right.
On the individual decisions, I note, as the right hon. and learned Lady has done, that the Transport Secretary has just answered an urgent question in another place. That was done in another place because the Transport Secretary cannot come here to answer elected Members on a key matter of public interest, and neither can the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills-neither of them are Members who have been elected to their current office. In order to dispel any lingering doubts, will the Leader of the House arrange for every record of meetings on this matter, as well as letters, e-mails or any other contacts, to be made openly available so that we can judge whether there has been any influence on policy?
The Leader of the House referred to the ministerial code and the work of Sir Philip Mawer, who was asked to investigate. We must remember that he can investigate only at the request of the Prime Minister; the Prime Minister is the only one who governs the ministerial code. I have very little confidence in the Prime Minister in this respect, because I happen to know that my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker) has sent three letters to him with complaints about a former Minister who may have breached the ministerial code and he has not yet received a reply. So what confidence can we have in that code? Should the code be adapted so that Ministers and civil servants are required not even to entertain approaches from Members of this House if they are made on behalf of commercial interests-if they are made on behalf of paid advocacy? There is no reason why Members should have access to Ministers on that basis; they are not working on behalf of their constituents, so why should they have that privileged position?
The Leader of the House has said that she is interested now-suddenly-in what the Public Administration Committee said about the statutory register for lobbyists, but she has had that report for some time and parliamentary vehicles were available for that to have been enacted. Why was it not? We have had plenty of time to debate lots of other things, so why did we not have a debate and an amendment-a Government proposal-on this subject? Why did she not accept the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) to the Companies Act 2006, which would have required companies to register when they decide to hire a Member of this place in order to do their business? Why did the Government resist that amendment and not let it through?
The fact is that we are tougher on the lowliest parish council member than we are on Members of this House. It seems to me that paid advocacy in Parliament for commercial or partial interests is not compatible with the duties of a Member of this House.