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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 12:53 GMT
Parliamentary standards: Is the Commons doing enough?
A committee of MPs has recommended that former Europe Minister Keith Vaz should be suspended for a month from the House of Commons.
The Commons standards and privileges committee says Mr Vaz has committed serious breaches of the MPs' code of conduct and has shown contempt for the House of Commons.
The findings follow an investigation by parliamentary standards commissioner Elizabeth Filkin, who leaves her job next week.
Ms Filkin drew attention to the contentious issue of parliamentary standards when she announced her decision to step down in December saying that she had been undermined by the MPs she was hired to police.
She says the job of her successor will be even more difficult, as the post has been "downgraded" by MPs to fewer hours.
Do you think the Commons is doing enough to monitor parliamentary standards? How can Parliament be policed?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The reason politicians are democratically elected into office is to serve their constituents. The rules need to change. All MP's need to sign a contract with the voting public that prohibits any extra curricular money making activity. What constitutes a misdemeanour should be clarified openly and the penalties for breaching the contract should also be clear cut so when a public servant does step out of line he/she is immediately sacked and replaced through by-election. With this in place we should be able to move someway to ensuring that the only individuals who get into politics on either side of the fence, are those who committed 100% to serving their public and are not those who are money motivated. Politicians need to win back the respect of the public. It is now commonplace to assume that a large proportion of those in government are on the make. While this is clearly not the case, one crooked politician is one too many!
I'd suggest that directorships and shareholding be put in some kind of abeyance rather than given up entirely. Although I agree that conflicts of interest should be removed, I can't see it being right that a person should have to forego an investment for their future (retirement? their family's needs?) in order to serve their country in The House, or that the House should contain only those who have never invested anything. I do very much sympathise though with the general disgust at the behaviour of politicians who seem to be more interested in lining their pockets than anything else.
Being an MP should be regarded as a full time job, and as such MPs should sign a contract of employment similar to any other. This would forbid them from taking outside work without prior approval from their employer as well as forcing them to attend work every day. Failure to follow the terms of the contract would lead to a verbal or written warning or dismissal as appropriate.
Keith Vaz's punishment in this case is ridiculous. He receives an extra month's holiday (doubtless without any deduction from his pay) while his constituents are left without representation in the Commons. The sensible solution would have been for him to face instant dismissal. This would leave Vaz free to pursue any business interests he wishes, as well as forcing a by-election in which his constituents could elect a more responsible servant to represent their interests rather than his own.
The population has to put up with wage rises which are significantly lower than the actual rate of inflation, but MP's vote themselves a huge increase as soon as the sittings are reconvened.
The quicker that MP's represent their constituents rather than toe the party line the better it will be for us all. That is the definition of true democracy. Ask the constituents how they feel on a particular issue, then vote in accordance with the wishes of the majority of them, irrespective of personal views or threats to the career made by the party hierarchy.
Simply - no. All MP's should be banned from having any outside interests for the duration of their time in the house. Then and only then could any of them be trusted.
What good will be done by suspending Keith Vaz, or any MP, from the Commons? Perhaps a more fitting punishment should be that is be made to attend the Commons every day. In that way, he probably won't have enough time on his hands to follow other his other business interests.
An even better alternative would be to disqualify him altogether from being an MP, having clearly breached the trust put in him by his constituents.
The Vaz affair in addition to all the other recent scandals must surely tell us that it is time to install an independent standards watchdog whose bite will be harsh enough to make MP's toe the line.
There seems to be no embarrassment or acknowledgement of wrongdoing by Blair at the steady flow of scandal and corruption from the Labour Party. To think how Mr Holier than Thou Blair used to lecture and sneer at the Tories who almost seem innocent by comparison now that we have Labours antics to compare against.
There are a few measures of accountability that are plain missing. Why do you not receive any documentation indicating how your MP performed, they have introduced this for just about every other form of public service, yet we still do not know how our elected MP's vote. Perhaps a more transparent attitude towards the electorate might help. I would like to see people receive a document that summarises how ther MP voted for them in the previous parliamentary session and a brief summary of their other jobs and interest, as well as a summary of their financial disclosures.
Whilst MP's might call this invasive, I would say that public office is public office and you ought to expect to have to report to the public whilst serving in it.
MPs should be subject to the same restrictions as other employees: they should have no outside interests that conflict with their ability to do their job. That means that they should resign their directorships and sell their shares when they become MPs.
Lorna, Reading, England
If I was found of impropriety in my job like this I would be sacked - so why are MPs unlike any other worker in this country? Maybe if they were there would be less sleaze.
Keith Vaz's behaviour has been appalling. He is a disgrace as an MP. He should be totally removed from any involvement in politics. But of course he will not. Politics and politicians in this country have become far too soft. No wonder the electorate are not interested in politics.
Oh, they are certainly doing enough... to sweep things under the carpet...
This whole affair shows the folly of Tony Blair in forcing out Elizabeth Filkin. We need strong investigative power, not weaker ones. Tony Blair has completely mishandled this issue.
The disclosure requirements for ministers should be more stringent than for ordinary MPs and every minister upon appointment should have to face a public examination by a committee of MPs, analogous to the Congressional Committee system in the US.
We all have painful choices to make in life. One of them sadly is whether we want to make a lot of money and thereby have the trappings that money brings. If you enter public service (like teaching or nursing) you regrettably do not make money. It should be the same for MPs. They have chosen a way of life which may not make them wealthy. It is therefore unacceptable that they should moonlight as businessmen.
If you have the nerve to do wrong in a responsible position then you should have no gripes when you are found out and dealt with appropriately. He should be made an example of.
Maybe it's time to modernise members of Parliament - tell them to give up their outside jobs, not take any directorships whilst serving as an MP and make them attend Parliament for at least 75 percent of the week!
MPs deserve the contempt of the electorate given that they have done nothing to show that they are trying to improve standards of behaviour and propriety. If we are to see our elected representatives as being more than members of an exclusive self-regulating club of vested interests then independent scrutiny must be adopted. This must be the catalyst for change so that we have MPs who are fully accountable and a process which is transparent.
Philip Brunt, UK
I don't think they are doing enough. An MP is elected to represent the interests of his or her constituents. Unfortunately, partly due to the party system, self-interest prevails. MPs should be forced to declare all their interests, and face severe penalties if they fail to do so. Recently an MP "accidentally" claimed the rent for his constituency office, when he was the owner. He got away with it by saying it was a mistake, but more likely it was simply fraud. Anyone else would have been sacked or maybe even prosecuted. MPs should set an example to all of us, rather than maintaining their current image of sleaze, corruption and general dishonesty. Transparency has to be achieved before public confidence and respect returns.
Mr Vaz is simply being victimised. This whole affair is ridiculous.
Surely after the failings of Enron, AIB, and now Keith Vaz, you would think we might realise that self-regulation doesn't work.
To Franklin: You mean we have talented people in British politics? Where? Have I missed something? I thought they were all a bunch of self-serving third raters.
Keith Vaz breaks the rules and what punishment does he get? A month's holidays. Unbelievable.
Parliament can only do so much to monitor standards when the might of government is set on protecting its interests. Keith Vaz was evasive when parliament investigated his interests and criticised his behaviour. Tougher action should be taken to insure that the likes of him are made aware of their wrongdoings. Keith Vaz should remember he is an MP representing our interests, not his own.
It's laughable, isn't it. We have these codes of conduct so that we can be totally sure that those in positions of power act only in the interest of the country as a whole. People like Vaz are suspended for a month for breaching these codes, and we are expected to trust them again afterwards! I'm sorry Ms Filkin has to leave her job, but I'm not surprised she feels she has to. As long as we are prepared to forgive and forget people like Vaz, then our government brings us shame, not pride.
21 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Filkin 'fails to prove hostile campaign'
21 Dec 01 | UK Politics
Campaign against watchdog was 'real'
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