The House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution report on the Parliamentary Standards Bill was out yesterday, and they didn’t pull their punches:
We are particularly concerned by the hasty manner in which policy-making has taken place, with negligible public consultation, and the subsequent ‘fast-tracking’ through Parliament of a bill which will have major constitutional implications… the bill is the product of a desire to respond to a demand to see something done, as the Government put it, rather than the outcome of a law-making process suitable for a bill with serious constitutional repercussions… The bill will accordingly have to be substantially recast. To do so under an accelerated passage is in our view wholly unacceptable given the questions of constitutional principle and detail that it raises… We are wholly unpersuaded by the Government’s case for this bill to be fast-tracked. There is an undoubted need to restore public confidence in the parliamentary system. It is not, however, clear to us that a cobbled together bill rushed through Parliament will help rebuild public trust; on the contrary, if Parliament cannot be seen to be scrutinising proposals with the thoroughness they deserve, public confidence in parliamentarians is likely to be further undermined. Governments should find the strength to resist falling into a temptation simply to see something done, which is no substitute for properly prepared policy and legislation.
As the Lords say, it is a hastily cobbled together rush to “do something” – the wrong thing. The report diplomatically describes the Prime Mentalist’s expenses announcement on YouTube as “constitutionally unorthodox”. Stark raving mad would be many of his own backbenchers description. The Kelly inquiry into MPs’ expenses from the Committee on Standards in Public Life won’t report back until the autumn. It is carrying out wide public consultations. This fast-tracked Bill is like something out of Alice in Wonderland, just as the Queen wanted ‘sentence first – verdict afterwards’, Gordon in Blunderland wants ‘legislation first, consideration afterwards’. Bonkers.