Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

Nope, I haven’t gone mad and started promoting parliamentary committees.

But I did get to wondering after Saturday’s blog, “I Am Disturbed“, about the thorny subject of ethics in the Houses of Parliament.

We probably first started to doubt the ethics of our politicians when the now famous expenses scandal excrement hit the air conditioning device.  That has been well documented and publicised so I won’t dwell on it further except to say that old habits seem to die hard with some people.

In Camoron and co’s reforms of the Legal System they have scrapped Legal Aid for several different things, but one that crept through quietly was Legal Aid in respect of challenging government decisions.  Our old friend Chris Grayling has changed the system to avoid the government having to defend itself continuously against ‘spurious’ challenges.

But wait! It gets worse! He has also introduced a £1,300 charge.

Under the new rules, people will have to pay both sides’ costs of preparing cases for a review until it is accepted by a court, when Legal Aid will start to pick up the bill.

Legal aid would then pick up the £1,000 to £1,300 cost of preparing legal papers retrospectively, as long as the case had been accepted by the court.

So although Legal Aid might still pick up the tab if you’re lucky, this will only be retrospective, making it impractical or impossible for normal folk to challenge government decisions in the courts.

Is it ethical to deliberately set out to make it harder to challenge a ‘democratic’ (ha) decision?

Under another plan foreign migrants are to be banned from obtaining legal aid for civil claims until they have lived in Britain for at least a year. Is this an ethical policy or is it a racist policy?

The latest round of NHS Reforms will directly or indirectly benefit current members of the House of Lords. There are those that would have you believe that they will benefit certain members of the Cabinet as well.

One fifth of Lords who voted on Health Bill had conflicted interests

Peers from every party were found to have private healthcare connections. According to Social Investigations’ research, one in four Conservative peers had links, compared to one in six Labour and one in 10 Liberal Democrats.

The Lords’ Register of Interests is updated regularly and exists to chart any potential conflict of interests. The Lords’ code of conduct also states that peers must ‘declare when speaking in the House, or communicating with ministers or public servants, any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion.’

However, there is no procedure to stop Lords with conflicted interests from voting on bills. And there is no suggestion that any of the Lords who voted for the Bill did anything wrong.

But is it ethical?

The NHS is safe in our hands

The NHS is safe in our hands

Privatisation in its many guises.  This brings Ministers and Lords into close proximity with companies like our old friends G4S (but not G4S exclusively I must point out).

John Reid (now Lord Reid), former Home Secretary and Minister for Health, Defence and Transport, who went on the G4S payroll at £50,000 in 2008 when he was a backbench MP, is now a G4S director with a seat in the House of Lords.

“Is the Minister aware that the best protection against misuse or fraud on cyber issues is biometric protection?” asked Lord Reid during a January 2012 debate on electoral registration in the House of Lords, neglecting to mention that his employers G4S are big players in the biometrics market.

What else is this company up to? It’s a partner in the private finance initiative project that is GCHQ, the UK Government Communications Headquarters. It’s engaged in “total facilities management”in the NHS, looking forward to “strong pipeline” from the Department of Health. It’s at the heart of government plans to install smart meters in every single home in Britain, with Centrica, O2 mobile and others gathering data for the “G4S Data Bank”.  It’s a big player in the automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) market. Its commanding position in “asylum markets” gets only stronger,

I don’t believe that Lord Reid is the only Peer in this position, I just use him as an example of the sort of thing that goes on. Neither am I saying that Lord Reid is doing anything wrong.

But is it ethical?

Finally (for now) – Pensions. Government are forever telling us that we must work longer, pay more in and draw less out. Final Salary Pension Schemes are rapidly being replaced with Career Average Pension Schemes. So it should come as no great surprise to your that our politicians are holding on to their Final Salary Pensions like there’s no tomorrow, and for some of them there might not be.

MPs should face “exactly the same changes” to their pensions as those imposed on public sector workers, David Cameron once said in 2011.  In opposition, the Tories and Lib Dems pledged to ditch the final salary pension scheme for new MPs and replace it with one linked to prices on the Stock Market. What’s more, while raising the retirement age for 2.6 million of the country’s working women by up to two years, MPs have still not accepted proposals made in summer 2011 for their pension age to rise from 65 to 68 while they await the outcome of the IPSA review into salaries and pensions (see below).

But is it ethical?

And then today we get this headline

MPs may get £10k pay rise: But they say: ‘It’s not snouts in the trough – if you pay peanuts you get monkeys’

IPSA believes MPs’ wages are well below those of equivalent professionals working in London such as accountants.According to some insiders, officials believe a pay rise as high as 25 per cent – taking  salaries to £82,172 – is needed to give MPs a fair deal.But it is thought they may recommend a figure closer to £10,000 to try to minimise the anticipated public outcry. Public Outcry?  Would there really be any? A Pay Rise of 25%? Why would there be a Public Outcry about that?

A senior MP said he feared they would be accused of  having their ‘snouts in the trough’ but argued: ‘Voters may not like it, but if you pay peanuts you get monkeys.’

So the establishment that already pays its coffee makes more than a Probationary PC is now considering an inflation-busting pay rise of 25% for itself?  But it’s OK it’s not #SnoutsInTheTrough, they say so. To sweeten the pill for the public they are likely to demand that MPs give up their guaranteed pensions and switch to a less generous scheme.
But is it ethical?
The Oxford Dictionary defines ethical;
  • relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these:ethical issues in nursing ethical standards
  • morally good or correct:can a profitable business ever be ethical?
  • avoiding activities or organizations that do harm to people or the environment:an expert on ethical investment switching to more ethical products adopt ethical shopping habits ethical holidays.

So I guess my question has become “Are these issues above morally good or correct?”

If your answer is NO then what the bloody hell is the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner doing about it?

The Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards deals with the application of the Code of Conduct and related Rules that apply to Members of Parliament.

This includes the registration of financial interests held by MPs and the investigation of complaints about MPs who have allegedly breached the Code of Conduct or related Rules.

Key responsibilities

  • Overseeing the maintenance and monitoring the operation of the Register of Members’ Financial Interests
  • Providing advice on a confidential basis to individual Members and to the Select Committee on Standards about the interpretation of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members
  • Monitoring the operation of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules and, where appropriate, proposing possible modifications of it to the Committee on Standards
  • Preparing guidance and providing training for Members on matters of conduct, propriety and ethics
  • Receiving and investigating complaints about Members who are allegedly in breach of the Code of Conduct and Guide to the Rules, and reporting her findings to the Committee on Standards
  • The Commissioner also presents an annual report to the House of Commons on the work of her office

I understand that most, if not all, of the above relate to individuals, but who the hell monitors the ethics of Parliament as a whole? Or is it just that they can fob us off with absolutely anything they choose without fear of challenge or consequences? Because that’s exactly what it feels like.

I Am Disturbed

Some of you may think that is nothing new at all, always disturbed.

Today, however, I am once more disturbed by things political.

Alexander Litvinenko fell ill after a meeting with former KGB contacts in London in 2006.

Before

Before

Litvinenko died in November 2006 after two former KGB agents – Andrei Lugovoi and Dmitry Kovtun – allegedly slipped radioactive polonium into his tea at London’s Millennium hotel. The Kremlin has refused to extradite the two spies, who have both vigorously denied Litvinenko’s murder.

After

After

Now, 7 years later, that bloody Tory William Hague, has stuck his finger in the pie, and made application to withhold certain evidence from the coroner on the basis that it’s SECRET.

Is it a coincidence that David Camoron has recently had talks with the Putin person and ‘relations have thawed’?

The coroner, Sir Robert Owen, reluctantly agreed to the foreign secretary’s request to hide material which suggested Russia’s state agencies were behind Litvinenko’s cold war-style killing. He also agreed to exclude other documents that examined whether UK officials could have done more to prevent the murder.

The question that is bothering me is Are we now sacrificing Justice on the altar of International Politics?

I’ve got no time for the Soviets, I don’t have any time for Camoron and his coalition chums at the moment, but I do have a huge amount of time for JUSTICE.

We have had trials before which have heard SECRET evidence. This is not a trial, it’s a coroner’s inquest, but surely the principle holds good.  It woulkd seem that evidence exists to support the claim that this was MURDER. If such evidence exists does it not deserve to be heard and to be tested? Isn’t this what our constitution is built on? Are we now going to emulate some foreign dictatorships? If JUSTICE is to become a victim here can the last one out please turn off the lights, because I will rapidly become ashamed our our country. I thought we were better than that.

In his ruling, Sir Robert Owen said the inquest might now result in an “incomplete, misleading and unfair” verdict. The coroner said he was considering inviting the government to hold a public inquiry instead, which would hear the sensitive evidence buried by Hague.

So, if he’s now considering inviting the government to hold a public inquiry which examine this very same evidence, why on earth can’t a coroner’s inquest hear it in the first place? I’m confused. How can a public inquiry safeguard SECRET evidence better than a coroner’s inquest? Anyone know?

In my simple opinion the coroner should follow the evidence wherever it takes him and I’m sure there are systems in place to protect anything that is truly SECRET or affects National Security.

Alexander Litvinenko was working for MI6 alongside Spanish spies in the days before his death.

Annie Machon, a former MI5 intelligence officer who left to become a whistleblower, told the BBC’s Today programme the British government had demonstrated a “reckless approach” to protecting its sources.

She also suggested that MI6 may have broken the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by denying the right to life, article two of the declaration.

Call me cynical if you wish, but don’t you think that this has more to do with the government trying to cover something up than worrying about our recently revitalised relationship with Putin’s Russia?

If we abandon JUSTICE we abandon civilisation.

One thing is for certain, if I wasn’t already on a list somewhere, I may well be after this.

Dambusters

I make no apology for the timing of this piece, it’s quite deliberate and something that I’ve wanted to say for a long, long time.

I have heard many calls over the past few years for Bomber Command of the Royal Air Force in the 2nd World War to be regarded as War Criminals, in particular, their leader Sir Arthur (Bomber) Harris.

Well I for one don’t agree with that sentiment on any level. War is a dirty business, kill or be killed. One cannot sit in the comfort of one’s centrally heated home/office and condemn the actions of heroes from a different generation, unless you were there. If a survivor from Bomber Command were to pitch up and say “we were War Criminals, we don’t deserve our medals etc” I would listen to him. I still might not agree with him but I would afford him the respect of listening to him. Anybody else doesn’t have the right to make that accusation in my humble opinion.

A few startling statistics might help put things into perspective;

56% of Bomber Command were either killed in the air or died from injuries received.

12% ended up as Prisoners of War.

Only 14% survived being shot down.

Only 27% survived the war unscathed.

In total, 55,573 were killed with an average age of just 22.

During the course of World War Two, personnel from Bomber Command were awarded 19 Victoria Crosses, 9 of them posthumously.

Aircrews had a 1 in 4 chance of surviving a tour of 30 missions.

The life expectancy of a bomber aircraft was just 13 missions.

All of the men who flew with Bomber Command were volunteers

Bomber Command lost more men in one night, during a raid over Nuremberg in March 1944, than died in the entire Battle of Britain.

So don’t tell me that these boys were War Criminals, they were heroes every one of them and thoroughly deserve their magnificent memorial in London.

Bomber Command Memorial

Bomber Command Memorial

Last night was the anniversary of the famous Dambusters Raid On the night of May 16th, 1943, nineteen Lancaster bombers took off from Scampton in Lincolnshire. The bombs were 50 inches in diameter, 60 inches long and weighed 9250 lbs. Of this weight, 6,600 lbs was powerful RDX explosive. The bombs were not easy to deliver and the crews had to release the bomb while flying at exactly 220 mph and at a height of exactly 60 feet above the water. If the Lancaster was forced into a tight turn at this height, one of its wing tips would barely be above the surface of the water. Precision flying at its best was needed just to get the bomb in motion. To add to the difficulties, the crew had to drop the bomb at exactly 425 yards from the dam wall. There could only be 25 yards either side of this figure

Avro Lancaster Bomber

Avro Lancaster Bomber

Dambusters: All the brave men who took part (click here to see the fate of all those brave young men who flew this mission)

Now does anyone want to talk to me about War Criminals?

As an amusing postscript, Mrs Angry and I were on holiday in Sardinia one year and it became apparent that were the only English people in this particular resort.  Anyway, one evening we were engaged in conversation by about 4 German couples who forced us to drink immense quantities of wine with them, taught us the meaning or Vorsprung Durch Technic and at the end of the evening bade us goodnight with that immortal line “You bombed our chip shop”, proof if any were needed that a) Germans can be generous, b) These particular Germans were not judgemental and c) they had a good sense of humour.

The Home Secretary’s Pussy

Before the lawyers have a field day I’d better explain that this post has NOTHING to do with The Right Hon Theresa May MP, her pet cat (if she has one) or any other pussy she may be connected with.

This week’s Federation Conference and the article in Police Oracle about the Home Secretary’s reception at the 1977 Federation Conference reminded me of an amusing tale, although I don’t suppose that the Home Secretary’s family found it highly amusing.

Rewind to the late 1970’s, Labour have formed the government of the day, and a chap called Merlyn Rees was the Home Secretary. Much the same as today, the Home Secretary wasn’t giving the Police very much reward financially, wages were actually abysmal and some police officers were even in receipt of Benefits.

Home Secretary 1976 - 1979

Merlyn Rees,  Home Secretary            1976 – 1979

The much-heralded Mr Merlyn Rees lived in the Borough of Harrow at the time, and I was a fresh faced, un-bearded bobby on the adjoining Division, part of what is now Brent.

Prior to becoming Home Secretary Merlyn Rees had been Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his life was sometimes in danger too – he once revealed that one of the men he released from detention was a Protestant gunman who had tried to kill him, so being his Prot. officer wasn’t always a bundle of fun.

Our Division (which included both Harrow and Brent in those days) was responsible for providing the Home Secretary with an armed guard 24/24 7/7. No Diplomatic Protection Group in those days. I am fortunate enough never to have been encumbered by a firearm at any time in my Police Service, probably regarded as too unstable, but I don’t care, it was a huge bonus in every way except overtime.  Due to the shortage of ‘authorised shots’ the post was spread out across the whole Division and we all knew each other in those days so we pretty much knew who’d drawn the short straw and was sat in Mr Merlyn Rees’s garden.

Come Night Duty, and the officer on the ‘post’. was an old hand who had a reputation for being a bit of a wag.  At about half past one in the morning he heard rustling in the rose bushes at the end of the garden.  In the best traditions of the Met he challenged the rose bushes and informed the armed and dangerous suspect lurking within that he was armed and prepared to shoot if necessary. The response to this was no more than further rustlings in the rose bushes.  Once again our friend challenged the rose bushes and threatened to shoot the suspect if he ignored his warnings.

One more set of rustlings greeted our hero.

BANG.

Next thing anyone knew the Home Secretary (in his pyjamas) appeared in the garden and retrieved the now-dead body of his cat from the rose bushes.  PC Jones called up the Duty Officer and told him what had transpired, i.e. “Let one off” and “Shot the cat”,  but due to his fearsome reputation for wind-ups no-one believed him. Even when he handed in his weapon at the end of his tour with one less round than he was issued with did anyone REALLY believe him, although no-one could account for the missing bullet.  I can’t help thinking that it would be somewhat different today.

About an hour later the Duty Officer turned up at Merlyn Rees’s address to pay the second of his customary twice-nightly visits, to be confronted by the PC who had taken over from PC Jones, talking animatedly with the Home Secretary who, upon seeing the Inspector, turned and said to him “So tell me Inspector, just how ARE you going to square this one up?”

Funnily enough PC Jones was never detailed to guard the Home Secretary ever again.

Fact or Fiction? You decide.

MPs repay £390,000 in ‘profits’ on second homes – Aah Bless, Poor Things

MPs have repaid nearly £390,000 in profits judged to have been made on taxpayer-funded homes, says Ipsa, Parliament’s expenses watchdog. The highest payment was £81,446 by Welsh Secretary David Jones, one of 71 MPs who continued to claim towards mortgage interest payments until 2012. They had to repay a share of any capital gain and most have now done so. But Tory Stewart Jackson says Ipsa is bullying him by taking legal action to get him to pay £54,000 it says he owes. All MPs used to be able to claim expenses towards the cost of mortgage interest payments on their “second homes”. But changes introduced in 2010, following the expenses scandal, stopped the practice for all new MPs. Most now rent properties or stay in temporary accommodation like hotels if they need a base in London. MPs who had already bought properties under the old system were allowed to continue to claim mortgage interest payments until August 2012 – as long as they agreed to repay a share of any profit made over that period, even if they chose not to sell. ‘Heavy handed’ Properties were valued by a surveyor in 2010 and again in 2012 – and the amount MPs had to repay depended on how much they had claimed, and how much the property’s value had risen by. Mr Jackson, who claimed £32,494 over the two years, has been told to repay £54,000 based on valuations of his home in Peterborough. Ipsa says it has filed a claim at the High Court to recoup the money. But Mr Jackson says the watchdog’s actions are “heavy handed and disproportionate and are clearly intended to bully me into submission”. He disputes valuations of his property done in 2010 and 2012 and says they assume his property rose by almost 20% in value, while others in his constituency fell by 3% over the same period. He still lives in the house and points out that he is being asked to repay more than he claimed. “IPSA have negotiated with 70 other MPs in a secretive and arbitrary manner but in respect of my case, regrettably, they have refused to negotiate. I am merely seeking fair play and consistency and will pursue legal action to receive it.” No profits In total, the 71 MPs claimed £926,159 of public money to cover mortgage interest over the 15-month period. Twenty nine of them were told to repay a total of £484,828 – of which nearly £390,000 has been repaid so far. The largest claims were made by Labour’s Michael Connarty – who received £34,168 and has repaid £6,833 – and Mr Jackson. But 42 of the 71 MPs have not had to repay anything, as their properties fell in value over the period. Among those repaying the most are Mr Jones, Conservative MP for Clwyd West, who claimed £18,060 in expenses but due to rising value of his London property has had to repay £81,446. The DUP’s Gregory Campbell, who claimed £16,755 towards a London property he still owns, has repaid £61,403. Conservative Philip Hammond repaid £34,610 – more than the £20,967 he claimed and DUP MP David Simpson paid back £30, 308 having claimed £11,208. Some are still repaying money, such as Conservative David Willetts and Labour’s John Denham, who have not sold their properties, and Lib Dem Andrew George.

via BBC News – MPs repay £390,000 in ‘profits’ on second homes.

Are MPs seeking to turn back clock on expenses?

Tax inspector in row with MPs over expenses

MPs expenses: 22 MPs get ‘dual income’ from London homes

MPs expenses: Row over disclosure of MPs’ letting details

All In This Together? Yet again I say NO.

I Can Now Be Found On Facebook Too

I have news.  RetiredAndAngry has moved with the times, albeit somewhat slowly.

The latest rants and musings of RetiredAndAngry can now be found on Facebook here.

Pop over and join me every now and again, share a rant, leave me a photo or a vid, leave a link to  your blogpost there, Press Cuttings are good. Almost anything you want really, as long as you’re not slagging me off too much.

Apathy

Dictionaries define Apathy in the following ways, but they’re pretty much all in accord;

  • Lack of interest or concern, especially regarding matters of general importance or appeal; indifference.
  • Lack of emotion or feeling; impassiveness.
  • Absence of interest in or enthusiasm for things generally considered interesting or moving
  • Absence of emotion
  • Absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement.
  • Lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting.

Recently I have been detecting, what seems to me to be, an overwhelming flood of Apathy.

Before you all start beating me up (metaphorically I hope) I should make it clear that I’m not necessarily referring to my friends in Twatterland, more like the Great British Public at large, bless them.

My first encounter with Apathy was after Tom Winsor published his wonderful work; the Independent Review of Police Officer and Staff Remuneration and Conditions, This fine work, in 2 volumes (much like Harry Potter only real) recommended sweeping changes to Police Officers’ pay, pensions , terms of employment etc.

Faced with such monumental reforms, how many of us wrote to our MPs to register our views? I did and I know at least two others who did, but Parliament should really have been awash with such letters.

Sgt Thompsett launched an on-line petition in a bid to protect Police Pensions. It required 100,000 signatures to be debated in the House. It really struggled to get over the line, and only did so due to a monumental effort by some of you in Twatterland, you know who you are, and you should rightly be proud of yourselves.

Sgt Thompsett is not suffering from Apathy and neither are the stalwart few who tirelessly promoted the e-petition, but these petitions are an official document that can record for posterity the number of people who oppose or are in favour of a certain issue. There are approx 135,000 serving officers, countless Police Pensioners plus an unquantifiable number of ‘supporters’, so why did it take so long, and so much effort to get past the 100,000 mark? Apathy?

@J_amesP, now there’s a lad who’s not suffering from Apathy, and look where it got him. Whatever you may think of James he’s not been afraid to stand up and tell folk the reality of what’s happening, and THE ESTABLISHMENT DIDN’T LIKE IT. There’s a big fat clue. The establishment rely on their old friend Apathy.

Fire and Rescue Services across the land are being hit with Fire Stations closed down, Fire Engines being sold off or mothballed.  Apparently they can put out fires just as efficiently with less Firefighters, less Fire Engines and further to travel to get to the fire because there’s less Firer Stations. Where is the public outcry? Apathy?

Her Majesty’s Marine and Coastguard Agency are being decimated. Coastguard Stations closed down, jobs under threat and Search & Rescue Helicopter Services being sold off to an American company. There are those in the MCA that are doing a fine job in publicising this travesty but where is the public outcry? Apathy? Well let me tell you I have been aboard a fishing boat that was sinking off the Isle of Wight, it was not funny, and I for for one will NEVER begrudge the Coastguards a single penny. If you swim in the sea, allow your kids to go on the sea with airbeds, fish from the rocks, surf, scuba dive, cross the Channel on a ferry or any of those other water sporty things, you have no place to be apathetic, the sea is a dangerous place and if you get into difficulties at Great Yarmouth you really don’t want your friends and family to be explaining your problem to a Coastguard Control Centre in Hampshire or wherever. Local Coastguards for local emergencies.

The Probation Service are under threat of the P Word – Privatisation. Probation Officers have allegedly been ‘Gagged’ threatened with disciplinary action if they dare to speak out about it. Where is the public outcry about this? Apathy? I have seen a few blogs on the subject, and very informative they are too, but honestly, I’m not sure the public have even realised.

Gagging Orders at Scotland Yard. Word reached Angry Towers that a few serving and former senior officers at New Scotland Yard had been made subject of Gagging Orders for a variety of reasons. A Freedom of Information request to the Mayor’s Office (MOPAC) and the Metropolitan Police just received so Refusal to Confirm or Deny the existence of any Gagging Orders, so I was left to reach my own decision. Where was the public outcry? Do we REALLY want our senior police officers, serving or retired, to be prevented from telling you stuff? Apathy?

Police and Crime Commissioner elections – the national turnout figure was approximately 14.5% and at least one ballot box was found to be completely EMPTY at the close of the polls. Apathy? If this was a means to register a Protest Vote I for one don’t think it’s the effective method, but that’s just my view. In any case it was an unmitigated disaster and we are beginning to witness the consequences.

Local Council Elections last week – turnout across the country ranged between 25% and 50%. Some elections were cancelled due to insufficient candidates and the sitting councillors elected unopposed. Apathy? I can’t quite think what might have given rise to insufficient candidates.

Reform of the legal system – scrapping of Legal Aid in certain circumstances, particularly for challenging government decisions, proposed ban on the access to your own solicitor of choice if you happen to end up in the cells, and a compulsory reliance on the Duty Brief, Why? Where’s the public outcry? Apathy?

And I’ve just remembered, how could I possibly forget, the overwhelming lack of reaction to the peculiar appointment of Blair Gibbs to the position at MOPAC. I am an ‘outsider’ I agree, but all did not appear to be well with that particular appointment, a subject that I have blogged on previously. Where was the public outcry? Apathy?

I’m sure these are just a few and that you will each have your own examples to add. Make no mistake – Apathy will lead to the destruction of this country as we know it and all that we are rightly proud of. We may not win the fight, but why should Camoron and co get away with it unopposed. Write letters to your MP, I have and I know at least 3 others who have, email them, make their inboxes overflow. Go and see them at their surgeries if you wish. The Great British public has a voice, please use it before your voice box is removed #andtherestissilence.

Thank you.