Parliament Trying Desperately To Clear Out Waste

A co-conspirator has spotted a 3,000 gallon DavLav tanker sitting in the Palace of Westminster, ready to clear out the huge amount of human waste that is sitting inside. DanLav’s tanker hire service specialises in “clearing cess pits, septic tanks and holding tanks” so it is definitely in the right place. Elsewhere on the estate gas services and fire safety company Emico has been spotted, presumably to deal with the inordinate amount of hot air, and other putrid fumes. They’ll have their work cut out if we don’t want a second “Great Stink“…

Parliament Hikes Food and Drink Prices Above Inflation

Parliamentary staffers were in for a nasty April Fools surprise yesterday as Commons catering prices rose by a whopping 2.7%. The change affects cafeterias, dining rooms, and worst of all, bars. Sadly for everyone on the estate this isn’t a joke…

Suspiciously, 2.7% is exactly how much MPs’ pay is rising this year, whereas staff budgets are rising by just 1.5%– below the 1.9% inflation rate of February. This means MPs won’t be hit by this but staffers will. Good to see Parliament looking after hard done by MPs who only earn a mere £50,000 above the national average, plus generous expenses…

Guido has long thought that Parliament shouldn’t be centrally determining the prices of food and drink in the Commons, and should let commercial chains operate within the estate. Let them be free to choose between Greggs, Leon, McDonalds, Pret, Whetherspoons… 

Tech Problems Leave Tory Staff With Nothing To Do

Conservative parliamentary staffers are stuck in a rut as two key online services for Conservative MPs’ staff are down. The Policy Research Unit, which produces research and recommended responses for questions about policy, as well as Cross Reference, which allows Conservative staffers to check if someone contacting their office is genuinely a constituent, have been out of service since Monday. One amused caseworker told Guido “It’s great, we cant do work as we can’t check people are constituents!” Really?

UPDATE: Staffers have been emailed to say that a fix is still being worked on. After three days they are not holding out much hope. Guido understands that the problems stem from the departure of the PRU’s tech guru Nick Roberts, who almost single-handedly wrote all the code for both services. Now no one there knows how to unpick it or make substantive changes…

UPDATE II: Guido hears that the PRU have been unwilling to hire a full-time replacement for Roberts to nurture and develop the code, instead trying to get developers on the cheap on a ‘pay-as-you-go’ basis. Chickens coming home to roost…

Youth Issues

Who will speak up for teenagers?

Bercow Could Thwart Brexit if the Meaningful Vote is Defeated

Like most of you Guido has tried to put thoughts of Brexit away for Christmas, nevertheless something besides brussels sprouts has been nagging at him, which, whilst the news flow is slow can be explored at length. Labour remainers have of late turned a blind eye to Bercow‘s bullying, mistreatment of staff and gender specific language for one reason, they believe he will be an ally in thwarting Brexit. He has considerable leeway to do so…

The common argument is that although Parliament is sovereign, if the Government holds its nerve there is nothing opponents to Brexit can do to stop the UK leaving the EU on WTO terms. However, there are many things Parliament can do to get its way:

A Contempt Motion
If the House of Commons votes on a non-binding motion to extend or revoke Article 50, and the Government choses to simply shrug its shoulders and ignore the instruction, the Speaker could choose to hold the Prime Minister in contempt of Parliament. How realistic is it for the Government to repeatedly ignore the will of Parliament in terms of repeated contempt motions?

Amendments in Scope
Opponents of Brexit will table amendments to the meaningful vote motion on a second referendum, membership of the Customs Unions or extending or revoking Article 50. Although these votes would not be binding on the Government, John Bercow could use the votes as a demonstration of the will of the House of Commons. This could embolden the Speaker to be even more flexible about the amendments he deems to be in scope of Brexit legislation. So for example the Trade Bill, Immigration Bill or Agriculture Bill could all be amended to make the Act conditional on their being a second referendum. It’s been argued by some that the Government could simply pull these Bills. However, this legislation has a real-world purpose to help the country prepare for leaving. The immigration bill will end free movement. The Healthcare (International Arrangements) Bill will ensure reciprocal healthcare arrangements can be in place with other countries after exit. How realistic is it for the Government to pull all its Brexit legislation?

A Humble Address
We have seen how the Speaker has colluded with the Opposition frontbench to use the humble address and other parliamentary mechanisms for party political purposes. A Humble Address could call on the Government to release all its information on no deal impacts, to increase pressure. There could be an attempt to stretch the power of a Humble Address – for instance requesting an extension of Article 50 or committing not to leave the EU without a deal or committing to a second referendum.

The opportunities for parliamentary opponents of Brexit in league with a Speaker who is their ally are worrying;

  • Amending the motion for the Meaningful Vote to say that the UK must leave with a deal. The Labour amendment to the Meaningful Vote requires that the UK leaves with a Withdrawal Agreement but not this Withdrawal Agreement. An amendment by Hilary Benn seeks to reject leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement, require the government to bring forward a debate on its proposed way forward, and allow MPs to table amendments to the motion the government is required to bring forward.
  • Debate triggered under s13(4) of the Withdrawal Act. Under the terms of the Withdrawal Act a loss of a meaningful vote must be followed within 21 days by the laying of a statement, and that followed by a further debate within 7 sitting days of the statement. The debate and possibly an amended motion could signal the House’s view that the UK should not leave the EU without a deal.
  • Emergency motions under Standing Order No. 24. The House could make clear in emergency debates called under Standing Order No 24 that the will of the House is that the UK should not leave without a deal or must hold a second referendum.
  • Opposition Day Debates and backbench time. The Opposition could table motions to call on the Government to take action to prevent no deal or hold a second referendum. Backbenchers could use their allocated time to table motions calling on the Government to prevent no deal.

Pro-Brexit MPs who believe the parliamentary die is set for a no deal Brexit are being complacent. The Speaker is intent on stopping that outcome.

Parliament’s Soaring Repair Cost

Parliamentary repair work is to cost the taxpayer £134,392 this year, soaring up from just £28,582 in 2010. In January MPs voted for a £3.5 billion renovation and a “full and timely decant” although this isn’t expected to take place until after the next election. In the meantime hundreds of thousands in taxpayer’s cash will be spent plugging the gaps…

Parliament Turns Away Scores of Interns in Security Clampdown

Guido hears that scores of interns and kids on work experience have been turned away from Parliament today in an apparent big crack down on people working on the Parliamentary estate without security clearance.

Before now it had been standard practice for MPs to take in students for shadowing or work experience, who would never go to the lengths of obtaining a formal pass for their few days in parliament.

This crackdown seems to be as a result of the Leader of the Opposition’s office employing full time staff for months without security clearence, an entirely different situation to teenagers on work experience. Interns have been joking with each other that Jezza has ruined it for everyone…

One recently employed staffer in the process of applying for a pass told Guido that “People who have been working here for weeks are suddenly being turned away. Others here on work experience aren’t going to be able to get any experience at all. It’s going to be even harder to get your foot in the door at Westminster now.”

Guido understands that some interns who were turned away have successfully made it in after being advised by their offices to enter the estate via another entrance under the guise of being there ‘for a meeting.’ If security have merrily been turning away work experience kids, does that mean they will finally start turning away Corbyn’s aides?

POLL: Should MPs Vote for an Early Holiday?

As if the six weeks holiday they have this summer were not enough, MPs are voting to knock-off the week before. Aren’t there a few legislative issues to iron out before?

‘SNP Plot’ Could Ruin England Match for MPs

It’s Estimates Day in the Commons, a dull procedure by which MPs formally consider estimates of future spending by government departments. This isn’t particularly controversial and most estimates are ‘rolled-up’ to minimise the number of votes – often there aren’t any votes at all. Tory MPs have been warned to expect multiple divisions tonight and there are rumours of an “SNP plot” to force votes which would mean MPs spend the match in the division lobbies rather than the bar. The SNP would not be so petty as to spoil England fans enjoyment of the game tonight, would they?

Just 7% of MPs Complete Fire Safety Training Despite “Another Grenfell” Warning

Just 7% of MPs have completed fire safety training despite Parliament being identified as a ‘red risk’ fire hazard which has the potential to be “another Grenfell”, Guido can reveal. Around 46 out of 650 have completed Parliament’s online fire safety course which contains vital information on how to evacuate their staff. MPs were asked to undertake the training by House authorities. Sir David Amess, MP’s representative on the Fire Safety Committee, said in an email to colleagues:

“Regardless of how you voted on the restoration and renewal motion, whilst we remain in the Palace it is beholden on all of us to do all we can to make ourselves familiar with evacuation procedures if a fire broke out.”

Former Black Rod David Leakey compared Parliament to “another Grenfell” waiting to happen. Fire experts have rated the collapsing building in the highest possible category of fire risk. Even if MPs don’t care for their own safety they have a duty to their staff…

Sandbach: I’ll Report Non-Constituents Who Email Me to the Police

Ultra-Remoaner Tory MP Anotinette Sandbach recently got into trouble for reporting an OAP to the police for sending her a polite email criticising her views on Brexit. Pretty bonkers even by Sandbach’s standards. Well, now Antoinette has updated her standard email auto-reply, threatening non-constituents who email her that she might report them to the cops:

“Please note that due to strict Parliamentary protocols, I will be unable to take up concerns of non-constituents.  If you are not a constituent and you have sent me a campaign email please note that your email will be retained in accordance with my data policy and may be disclosed to third parties in accordance with my data policy.  Emails which are abusive, threatening distressing or which may or could amount to harrassment will be disclosed to the police and relevant regulators.  For the avoidance of doubt any further contact from non constituents, who have received this bounceback and are therefore aware that I can not deal with their query may be classed as harrasment may be reported to the police and other relevant authorities including the House of Commons authorities and the Member of Parliament for the non constituent.”

Totally normal behaviour.

Police Called to Sports and Social After ‘Fake Pass’ Scare

Police were called to Parliament’s Sports and Social bar last night after a man was challenged over a ‘fake’ House of Lords pass. Scottish Conservatives and SNP researchers spotted a man in the bar wearing what they described as a counterfeit parliamentary pass. One told Guido:

“It was obviously a fake pass. The red lines were the wrong distance apart, the numbers were the wrong size and it wasn’t double sided… When he was challenged he hid the pass in his pocket and then fled the parliamentary estate… others also saw him earlier this week on the terrace.”

A Met Police spokesman said there were no arrests. Witnesses said the police took statements. A House of Lords Spokesman said:

“The Police attended the Sports and Social Bar last night in relation to an access issue. It was not in response to a disturbance or breach of the peace.”

The incident comes weeks after a man was arrested after breaching Parliament’s security fence and attempting to climb scaffolding on the building. Management of the troubled Sports and Social is due to be brought “in house” after summer recess. Another Parliamentary security scare…

Lembit Opik Elected MP For Outer Space

Lembit Opik is among a group of British politicians who have been elected MPs in the Parliament of Asgardia, the first ‘space nation’. Asgardia aims to be the first nation state in space – enthusiasts launched a (small) satellite into orbit containing the data of thousands of its citizens, but apart from that it exists mainly online. There are 200,000 ‘citizens’ of Asgardia who have signed up online from countries around the world. It is unclear how many still live in their mum’s spare bedroom. One day the Asgardians hope to have a fully functioning space colony, where Lembit will be making the laws…

The first meeting of the Asgardian Parliament is set for 24 June in Vienna. Others involved include former Lib Dem Leicester South MP Parmjit Singh Gill, and, interestingly, sitting Tory MP Nigel Evans. This may not be allowed…

Commenting on the opportunities presented to British citizens by Asgardia, Lembit Opik said:

“As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, the country is liberated to invest in a truly global space community, and the Government has recognised this with substantial investment in the UK space sector. Asgardia welcomes British citizens who share the dream of human opportunities in space for all countries, not just the privileged few who can afford a presence in space. There was a time when only the British Upper Class could travel abroad. Now it’s possible for all to do it.”

Cosmic…

Serjeant-at-Arms: Bercow Victim of “Witch Hunt”

The senior official responsible for security and order in the House of Commons has dismissed bullying allegations against John Bercow and said the Speaker is the victim of a “witch hunt”. The extraordinary intervention in defence of beleaguered Bercow by Serjeant-at-Arms Kamal El-Hajji is published in the official Commons mag, The Housethis morning. El-Hajji wrote:

“There has recently been article after article in the daily newspapers containing speculation and accusations regarding Mr Speaker’s code of conduct and the allegedly ‘unprofessional’ way that he treats staff and colleagues working in Parliament. Due to a considerable lack of evidence supporting these allegations, it seems clear to me that there is a witch hunt against him, whether it is coming from previously disgruntled staff members or ex-colleagues trying to settle old scores of some kind.

“…we feel that there is a witch hunt going on trying to discredit Mr Speaker… I felt it’s important to stand up for what is right and to show support and solidarity to someone who has done such a great deal for Parliament and for the country.”

El-Hajji was selected for the job in 2015 by a panel of MPs headed by Bercow – he would not have got the job without the Speaker’s approval. Nice way to pay him back…

El-Hajii’s defence does not address any of the actual bullying allegations, which are extensive. It is in stark contrast to comments made by former Black Rod David Leakey, who said Bercow was unworthy of the office of Speaker. How can bullying and harassment victims have any confidence in Parliament after this display?

UPDATE: A government source condemns the Sarjeant-at-Arms: “He should be neutral in all of this. It’s really beyond unprofessional.” 

Police Arrest Intruder Attempting to Climb Scaffolding on Parliament

An individual was arrested this afternoon after attempting to scale scaffolding outside Parliament, according to unconfirmed reports. Parliamentary authorities saY they are aware of an “incident”. Police presence has been intensified.

Authorities are not taking any risks…

UPDATE: Metropolitan Police confirm one male arrested on suspicion of trespass. Police scaling down now.

Peers Get Pay Rise

Their noble Lordships have bagged a pay rise: their daily expenses allowance now stands at up to £305, a £5 increase on last year. The £305 daily rate does not account for the benefits gained from subsidised restaurants. It also does not include travel expenses which can be claimed separately. Lording it up…

Question Asked in Commons Chamber

A man has proposed to his bride-to-be in the chamber of the House of Commons. In what may be an historical first civil servant Matthew Reville popped the question to Labour parliamentary aide Rachel Evans on the floor of the House late last Friday (when MPs were not sitting). Matthew tweeted a video showing the proposal with the caption “motion proposed on the floor of the House.” Congratulations to them both…

Parliament Changed Mail Screening Provider Before Suspicious Package Wave

Today saw the fifth suspicious package incident in Parliament in a week. Of course, MPs get letters from cranks and weirdos all the time. This wave of suspicious – thankfully non-harmful – substances leaking from inside mail is causing researchers genuine alarm. As Guido reported on Monday, police are probing any link to an anti-Muslim hate campaign. Guido can reveal another factor which may also be at issue. The gossip among staffers is that Parliament has recently switched to a new contractor to carry out mail screening. The budget for screening used to be shared with the Metropolitan Police until it was taken completely in house in 2015. Researchers say they have noticed a significant uptick in dodgy letters getting through. One said:

“It’s extremely disruptive. The company doing the external screening has got a lot to answer for.”

Further details about the contract are protected for security reasons. Whether MPs are working or evacuated, you’re still paying for it…

Cops Probe Link After Second Suspicious Substance Incident

Police are dealing with another “suspicious substance” incident in Parliament less than 24 hours after Labour MP Mohammad Yasin’s office was targeted with a package containing a non-harmful liquid. Guido understands Rupa Huq’s office has been evacuated as have other offices on the first floor of Norman Shaw North building. The incident involves two packages. Specialist police and ambulance crews are in attendance. Police said they were investigating whether yesterday’s incident – which saw two people taken to hospital as a precaution – was linked to threats against Muslims. Now Parliament says police are probing whether the two incidents are linked:

“The Met Police are currently investigating suspicious items of mail in Norman Shaw North. We cannot provide any more details at this stage. This is further to the two items investigated yesterday, both of which were found to be non-harmful. The Police are investigating the content of the letters to identify any potential links.”

Yikes…

UPDATE: MPs, researchers and Parliamentary staff have received an email warning them that there have been four unknown substance incidents in two days. It reads:

“The Met Police are currently investigating two suspicious items of mail in offices in Norman Shaw North…

“Yesterday a suspicious substance in an office in Norman Shaw North was investigated by the Met Police and was found not to be hazardous. The affected area was temporarily cordoned off but no evacuation was necessary… A further letter was investigated in an office in Portcullis House yesterday evening and found not to be harmful. This makes a total of four incidents in two days at time of writing.”

Impatient Westminster Begs Greggs To Open Doors

No hint of a return to the pasty tax in today’s Spring statement and it’s a good thing too as Westminster cannot wait for its new branch of baked goodies gods Greggs to open. MPs, ravenous researchers and hungry hacks say Greggs breadder get on with the roll out and finally open the new shop, based in a giant glass-clad concession inside Westminster tube station.[…] Read the rest

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Quote of the Day

Change UK MP Joan Ryan tells Change UK’s South West ‘rally’:

“Can everyone look at their hands please?”

*everyone holds out their hands in front them*

“That’s it, it’s there, the future is in your hands.”

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