Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Lay of The Land

Who are these "lay" members of the Parliamentary Committee on Standards? I bet that they are a lot less "lay" than many MPs are, and an awful lot less "lay" than most voters are. It is parliamentarians who are there because they are lay, just as magistrates and jurors are.
Yet there is now a proposal that these great and good be given voting rights. As much as anything else, that would mean that the Committee's proceedings could no longer be covered by parliamentary privilege. Don't the people making this proposal know that? Evidently not.
None of the above would need to be explained at all if Tony Benn were not dead, Michael Foot were not dead, Leo Abse were not dead, Enoch Powell were not long dead, Tam Dalyell were not retired, or Sir Peter Tapsell were not about to retire. All eyes are now on Sir Richard Shepherd. Whether any ears will be upon him is, alas, a different question.
Like recall elections, the expense of which ought in each case to be borne by whoever organised the petition to bring it about, the equally illiterate call for voting "lay" members of the Standards Committee, or even for these matters to be taken out of the hands of MPs altogether, is of a piece with the cession of properly parliamentary power to the Executive and to the Judiciary, to media moguls and to money markets, and to the Government's staff rather than to elected politicians. A very similar, and not unconnected, trend is also evident in local government.
Where else is going to be given these voting "lay" members from among self-selecting specialists with heavy vested interests? Select Committees? Standing Committees? The House itself? That is the very last thing that we need.
Moreover, it would constitute an abrogation of our own responsibilities. If we want better MPs, then we ought to require ourselves to vote for them.

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