The House of Commons heard a statement from the Speaker about expenses yesterday. Herewith the lowlights:
"Members will be aware of the unauthorised disclosure of material relating to their allowances, which has appeared in the press on Friday and over the weekend. This has caused great public concern.
Leaving aside the legal aspect, to which I shall return in a moment, the House has to make serious change to the system of allowances. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that we have been working to new rules from 1 April. We also know that there will be further changes, with proper, independent audit assurance. But working to the rules and the rules alone is not what is expected of any hon. Member; it is important that the spirit of what is right must be brought in now. We are also setting up an operational assurance unit with independent oversight to secure the proper handling of claims. This will be operating very shortly.
To return to the legal aspect, the Clerk of the House immediately sought advice. He was advised that there was no real basis for seeking an injunction but that there was some basis for considering that a criminal offence or offences may have been committed. As right hon. and hon. Members will know from a communication that they received on Friday afternoon, he accordingly referred the matter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. I can understand hon. Members’ concerns about the revealing of details of bank accounts, style of signature and verbal passwords and their concern that an individual who may have sold the data is also capable of selling this information further. That is why the police have been informed. I am also writing to the publisher of the newspaper, drawing this fact to their attention and reminding them of the serious security implications if personal data that might expose Members and others to risks to their safety were to be published. The letter will be copied to all national newspapers."
It is thanks to the judiciary, not to the Speaker, that some progress is finally being made in tackling expense abuses. Speaker Martin is wholly incapable of dealing with this issue. The release of personal details might well be a problem – but it's hardly the big issue. It is extremely self regarding to think that it is.
Labour MP Kate Hoey made a perfectly sensible point, which the Speaker naturally balked at:
"Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to point out that many of us—I hope from all parts of the House—feel that bringing in the Metropolitan police, who have a huge job to do in London at the moment in dealing with all sorts of problems, to try to find out who has leaked something, when, as has been pointed out, the newspapers have handled the personal details very responsibly by blanking them out, is an awful waste of resources? Will the public not see this, whatever the intention, as a way of hiding—
Mr. Speaker: Let me answer the hon. Lady. I listen to her often when I turn on the television at midnight, and I hear her public utterances and pearls of wisdom on Sky News—it is easy to talk then. Let me put this to the hon. Lady and to every hon. Member in this House: is it the case than an employee of this House should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing? The allegations—I emphasise that they are allegations—are that that information was handed over to a third party in order to find the highest bidder for private information. If I do not ask, or rather if the Clerk of the House does not ask, for the police to be brought in, we are saying that that employee should be left in situ with all the personal information of every hon. Member, including the hon. Lady’s own information and that of her employees. Let me say that anyone who has looked at their own un-redacted information can see that the signatures of employees are exposed, that private ex-directory numbers are exposed and that passwords—telephone passwords—are exposed. I just say to the hon. Lady that it is easy to say to the press, “This should not happen,” but it is a wee bit more difficult when you have to do more than just give quotes to the Express—or the press, rather—and do nothing else; some of us in this House have other responsibilities, other than just talking to the press."
South Staffordshire's own Sir Patrick Cormack at least had a proposal that would have a cleansing effect:
"Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you have your discussions later this week, will you please discuss with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the advisability of bringing in an implement that would be used in virtually every other capital city—the water cannon?