Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Post Office Consultation starts 18th March

Residents of Gosforth have written to me expressing concern that their Post Office, closed due to local circumstances, will be a serious loss to the village if it does not re-open. They and residents of other towns and villages in Cumbria and elsewhere, are right to be concerned.

The loss of a post office can be a hammer blow to a local community. The government needs to provide more support to keep these offices open.

There will shortly be a consultation on the future of post office in Cumbria which I understand is due to start on 18th March. Get ready: we will need as many letters and petition signatures as possible to SAVE OUR POST OFFICES

Copeland Budget 2008/2009

Copeland Council's budget and council tax were set today. The Copeland element of Council tax will rise by 3.9% - the government settlement, made at the time when Gordon Brown appeared to be about to call an election was reasonably generous but they also put a large number of constraints on how the council can use the money.

The cumulative impact on local residents and particularly pensioners of successive council tax rises over the past decade has been serious. The effect on council tax of Gordon Brown's policies as Chancellor and Prime Minister will not be remembered as one of his positive accomplishments

Two West Cumbrians honoured

I was delighted to see David Gray and Jim Close made Honorary Aldermen of the Borough of Copeland today.

As councillors for Gosforth and Frizington respectively, both David and Jim worked extremely hard for their communities for many years. David continues to serve Gosforth as a Parish Councillor.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Matthew Paris on laws that actually work

Matthew Paris had a piece in The Times yesterday which ought to be compulsory reading for all MPs and all aspiring MPs. And we all should be required to say publicly whether we agree with the points he makes.

As Matthew points out, far too many laws have been put on the statute book, not because they are workable leglislation but to "Send a message" or make a point. Far too often Ministers or MPs propose or pass a law and then before the ink is even dry on the document confirming Royal Assent they start trying to get round it.

The article should also be compulsory reading for Matthew's fellow political journalists: be an extreme irony, the author of one of the articles on the facing page would be wise to think a little further about the points he makes (she refers to using laws to sending a message about an admittedly serious problem in almost exactly the language which, as Matthew Paris points out, has led to so many bad laws.

The article can be found at

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article3419812.ece

but it is also worth repeating here, and reads as follows.

We want laws that actually work

MPs trumpet their new legislation, then proceed to undermine it at any opportunity. Matthew Parris

If you Google, try googling (in the UK entries section) the following assemblage of words and phrases: “this bill”, “send out”, “message”, “minister” and “Parliament”. I got 676 returns yesterday.

How often have we read or heard it? New laws and proposed new laws are being touted around as though they were a specialised branch of advertising, rather than rules to be interpreted, enforced and obeyed. MPs become briefly enthused as the legislation passes through their House - and then, once passed and even before it comes into force, seem to lose interest in whether the law is working. It is as though they think that, message sent, their work is done.

Ask almost any MP whether he or she has the least idea how many prosecutions have so far been brought under an Act that not many months ago they were touting as a vital part of the Government's programme (or the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it) - and they won't have a clue. They have moved on in their minds to new messages they want to send out.

A Private Member's Bill that got its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday was most certainly not intended as merely declaratory. But it was there to amend an area of law that for 1.4 million people has indeed become no more than an exhortation: employment protection. There are now 1.4 million agency workers in Britain and the sector is expanding, driving a coach and horses through our employment protection laws. The Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, sponsored by the Labour backbencher Andrew Miller, would give agency workers parity with those on permanent company payrolls by whose side they often work, doing just the same jobs.

My own mind tends to a different conclusion from Mr Miller's: that there should indeed be better parity between the agency worker and his company-payrolled equivalent; but this should be achieved not by increasing the rights of the former, but reducing the rights of the latter. But that's another argument. Where Mr Miller's logic and mine agree is in this: that ministers seem happy to trumpet Britain's employment protection legislation as an example of social justice in action, while allowing agency working to undermine its whole purpose - perhaps aware that the added flexibility in the labour market is an economic good that they dare not tamper with.

We in Britain are getting into a dreadful habit. I call it “declaratory” lawmaking. I mean making laws that do not so much do the right thing, as say the right thing. Content with the “message” our new Act of Parliament has “sent out”, we then start working assiduously to subvert the natural consequences of enforcing it.

If we think that workers' rights enshrined in European and British law are necessary safeguards against exploitation, then Mr Miller is right: we should stop up the expanding loophole of agency working. If we don't, we should never have enacted the legislation in the first place.

Such moral and intellectual dishonesty seeps through modern attitudes to lawmaking. Take the 2000 Act reforming party funding. No sooner had it received Royal Assent - and “sent out a signal” that the years of Tory sleaze were over - than Tony Blair's political comrades began undermining it by resorting to loans instead of donations. They're doing so still.

Or take the anti-corruption laws enacted in the Crime and Security Act (2001) during that same spate of (apparently) reforming zeal. Ministers and civil servants never for a moment supposed that their new law need impede the kickback-littered progress of Britain's arms-trading relationship with Saudi Arabia - and secretly blocked a Serious Fraud Office inquiry when it did.

Or take a more ancient (and seminal) piece of lawmaking: Britain's accession to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees. The world has changed since. Almost the entire female population of Saudi Arabia (for example) could arguably avail themselves of the sanctuary that this measure offers; and mass international transport gets ever easier. But, lacking the philosophical courage to admit that the convention needs amending, we and our allies have constructed walls not so much of red tape as barbed red wire: interminable delays, fines on airlines, miserly welfare, armed patrols off the African coast beating back pathetic rowing-boats... all in an attempt to make it prohibitively difficult for the would-be refugee to reach the position in which he could make the claim. This is cowardly.

More ancient still is our National Health Service and its bedrock principle of unlimited care free to all at the point of use. Who dares revisit that bedrock? Nobody. So instead we charge for prescriptions, not care; we run down NHS dentistry until you cannot actually get an NHS dentist; we try to ration by queue, then, appalled at the political costs of lengthening queues, we promise targets for waiting times for urgent care; then, abashed by the difficulties of meeting them, find ways of creating ghost queues waiting for the queue; then, dismayed at the distortions, we start “ring-fencing” this or that non-urgent area of provision too. And this, all of it, only an evasion of the truth that “free at the point of use” has become a declaratory, not an effective, administrative principle.

Laws are brought in, or proposed, to ban “hate-speech” against religions or homosexuality; then when challenged to explain how the free speech that the legislation's net seems to catch is to be protected, ministers insist that any prosecution would have to be approved by the Attorney-General. You realise, don't you, what they mean? There won't be any prosecutions - or very, very few; the Attorney will see to that. It was all about sending out a message.

We are, almost as I speak, renationalising the railways (via Network Rail), reimprisoning prostitutes (via ASBOs), regionalising rates of pay (via “housing” and “living cost allowances”), rewarding MPs on almost twice the scale the headline salary suggests (via allowances and reimbursements of every kind) and reneging on the Freedom of Information Act (via an increasing range of exemptions). We are increasing the amount of selection taking place in schools (selecting by parent rather than child, or by faith, or by “specialism”, or by house price). And we are reintroducing general powers of stop and search (via anti-terrorism laws). Yet all these things have been ostensibly abolished, often in ringing declarations in the House of Commons, and often - apparently - in legislation.

Making a law, then getting round it, may be thought by the marketing geniuses who exercise so much influence over modern politics to be a clever wheeze - getting the best of both worlds. But there is one law from which even the most cynical of declaratory lawmaking cannot wriggle out: the law of diminishing returns. If politicians choose to dwell only among declaratory headlines about the enactment of law, and duck questions about its execution, they foster first confusion and finally a general cynicism about the potency of politics itself.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Whitehaven Golf Course

There have been a number of questions asked and concerns raised in comments on this blog about the sale by Copeland Council of Whitehaven Golf Course, which took place before I was elected to the council.

There are also some issues about planning matters relating to the site and particularly the footpath diversion.

The District Auditor is investigating a complaint about the arrangements for the sale, and it would not be appropriate for me to make a final judgement on the matter until the report into that investigation is published. However, I have had some lengthy conversations with senior officers of the council and with councillors about the sale, and I think it is right to put on record that

1) I am assured that all documents which the District Auditor asked to see, including the valuation of the site, have been made available to the Auditor.

2) The bidder for the freehold of the site already held a 125 year lease of the site which had 120 years left to run. In this circumstance the professional valuation advice given to the council was that it was reasonable to expect that the freehold would be worth more to the leaseholder than to any other potential bidder.

3) The freehold of the land was not sold for less than the independent valuation.

I will comment further when I have some more information about the planning situation and when the District Auditor's report is published.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Report back on Millom Neighbourhood Forum

Attended the Millom Neighbourhood Forum this evening.

There were two major presentations. The first was from the County Council's Adult Social Care department on the current proposals to replace six residential care homes in Cumbria with new and better buildings, mostly adjacent to or near local community hospitals.

There was also a presentation on the local Nature reserve and how it can help with the economic regeneration of the Millom and Haverigg area, and the usual round of grants applications.

The Care home proposals is the first part of a package aimed at a major improvement of the care homes in Cumbria. Two of the six care homes due to be replaced are in the new Copeland constituency: Lapstone House in Millom and Ravensfield Care Home in Keswick.

In the case of both Lapstone House and Ravensfield, the plan is to replace the existing homes with a new and better building adjacent to the local community hospital.

The idea of a "Health Campus" in Millom bringing together the Care Home, Millom Community Hospital and ideally other health services such as the GP surgery was strongly supported in principle by residents at both tonight's meeting and the "Closer to Home" consultation meetings, although obviously people had legitimate concerns about the details of how things would work

Residents of Keswick who are interested in hearing more about the proposal as it affects them will be able to hear a similar presentation at the next Keswick Neighbourhood Forum which is due to be held on 4th March at 7pm in the Quaker Meeting House.

The other four care homes in Cumbria affected by phase one of the proposals are Inglewood in Wigton, Moot Lodge in Brampton, Grisedale Croft in Alston, and Greengarth in Penrith.

More detail of the care homes consultation can be found online at

www.cumbria.gov.uk/adultsocialcare/carehomesconsultation

Sunday, February 17, 2008

£11 Million cut would "cripple" Cumbria's police force

The Chief Constable of Cumbria has warned of "catastrophic" damage to policing in the county if the recommendations of a report from the former Northern Ireland Chief Constable, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, were implemented in full.

The Flanagan Review of local police funding suggests that Cumbria is top of a list of "winners" under the current arrangement and proposes an alternative funding formula under which Cumbria constabulary would eventually receive £11 million a year less than now.

It appears this is partly because of the success of Cumbria police in reducing crime. The Flanagan formula looks at crime levels now which seems reasonable at first - until you realise the Cumbria Constabulary is effectively being punished for being the most efficient police force in the country. However sensible the Flanagan formula might look at first sight to people in London or Northern Ireland, this sends out all kinds of wrong signals.

One has to ask whether Sir Ronnie and his committee have ever been to Cumbria. The geography of the area means that providing quality public services is challenging and cannot be done on the cheap whether it is healthcare or policing. But we have paid our taxes and are entitled to expect a decent NHS and police service.

The day Labour's reputation for economic competence died

Responding to the government's announcement that the Northern Rock bank is to be nationalised, the Shadow Chancellor, George Osborne said:

"This is the day when Labour's reputation for economic competence died"

"Now the taxpayer will bear the full risk of lending £100 billion of mortgages in an uncertain housing market."

The amount of taxpayer's money which is affected just too huge for the mind to fully grasp. The risk to the taxpayer of an earlier government guarantee was described as "Thirteen Millenium Domes" - this is more like Fifty Millennium Domes.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Whitehaven hospital to lose maternity beds ?

The Whitehaven News has a story suggesting that as part of the reduction in bed numbers following on from the "Closer to Home" consultation, the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven might lose eight maternity beds, (dropping from 23 to 15).

It is also suggested that there might also be losses in the SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit) and paediatrics. For more details see the "Support West Cumbria Hospital Services" blog - follow link at right.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Why we need more sceptics

No, this post isn't mainly about Europe. It's about an word which was usually misunderstood in the past, and has been even more distorted by being completely misused in we debate the European Union, but represents an approach which the events of the past couple of days demonstrate to be needed now more than ever.

If you asked me to nominate the most misused word in the English language, I would have to say "Sceptic."

The original sceptics were often misrepresented in ancient Greece, where the word originates, and subsequently, as being hostile to all religion. Some of them certainly were, others just as certainly were not.

But what it "sceptic" means is "seeker after knowledge" e.g. one who tries to establish the truth, rather than taking things on faith.

In other words, we do more than a little violence to the English and Greek languages of we use the expression "Euro-sceptic" to mean those who most loathe everything to do with the European Union. That term ought to mean those who have the most open minds about the EU, are prepared to accept that something which comes from Brussels could be either good or bad, and neither unthinkingly support or reject any EU treaty or proposal.

But in this day and age a willingness to think about things, and not just accept or reject them is far too rare. And the events of the past few days have proven this.

An old saying often attributed to Mark Twain is that "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." Ironically this attibution itself may be wrong, but the statement itself is even more true today. A website called "Salisbury post" added

"And that was long before the Internet. Today, lies are on their third lap around the globe before truth can hit the snooze button."

One example this week was when the Department for Education had to deny a completely false rumour to the effect that teachingt of the Holocaust was to be dropped from the curriculum of British schools to avoid offending muslims. Today's Times carries a piece by the author of an article which had been misunderstood and misquoted in this way.

An even worse example was the complete misrepresentation by far too many media people who should have known better of the admittedly confused and unhelpful comments of the Archbishop of Canterbury about Sharia law.

Let me make clear that I agree wholeheartedly with the criticisms made by Sayeeda Warsi about the Archbishop's speech. A man in his position should have had the sense to realise how his comments were bound to be misunderstood and damage community cohesion.

But although Dr Rowan Williams should have realised that his comments were bound to be represented in ways which would do far more harm than good, this is no excuse for all the journalists who exacerbated that harm by seriously misquoting him in ways which were either incompetent or dishonest.

The Archbishop did not argue, as too many newspaper headlines have suggested he did, that the more barbaric and extreme forms of Sharia should be allowed in Britain. He said, in so many words, that no-one in their right mind wants this to happen.

Neither did he argue for Muslims or anyone else to have a separate legal system: in questions after his lecture he stated explicitly that "I am not talking about parallel systems" but about how the law of the land can accomodate a wider range of people with the fewest conflicts.

There are plenty of valid criticisms which can and should be made of Dr William's speech, but an even greater hornets' nest was stirred up because an admittedly silly and unclear speech was very inaccurately reported.

What this goes to show is that we should all think twice before assuming that anything we hear on the news, read in a newspaper, or read on the internet s necessarily true. Or indeed that it is false. Every day we all hear dozens of true statements and dozens of false ones. If we stop to think about which of the things we have been told are likely to fall into each category, and avoid the trap of believing what confirms our existing prejudices, we are likely to make much wiser choices in our lives.

Isn't it ironic that a group of philosophers from Ancient Greece, two and a half centuries ago, can give us advice which is so relevant to the internet age?

Friday, February 08, 2008

There must be one law for everyone

There is only room in any country for one system of criminal justice. And everyone, regardless of their status, sex, race or religion, must be equal before it.

British law must apply to everyone in Britain. It is, of course, open to anyone who considers that current UK law does not include things which they believe to be right to campaign for an act of parliament to add to, amend, or repeal existing laws. That new law will then apply to anyone in the UK.

The recent comments by the Archbishop of Canterbury about Islamic law have touched off a furore because they have been interpreted as meaning that there might be one law for some citizens and another law for others. If that was what Dr Rowan Williams meant, I would have to fundamentally disagree with him. But I am not absolutely convinced that this is what he was meant to say.

I have not yet been able to find a full text of Dr Williams' remarks. He certainly does not appear to have been supporting the more extreme forms of Sharia law such as stoning people to death or cutting off limbs - in fact he said that nobody in their right mind would want the introduction of such a regime.

Dr Williams has however been quoted as saying that it is unavoidable that aspects of the Sharia system would become the norm in this country.

One Muslim speaker commenting on his remarks said that an aspect of the Sharia system is that Muslims should repect the local laws of a country where they are living. I would hope that this aspect of the Sharia system is already the norm.

So far as the criminal justice system is concerned there is no room for flexibility or for multiple legal systems. We must all be bound by the same criminal laws, subject to the same courts, and the same penalties on conviction.

However, so far as civil obligations is concerned, there is absolutely nothing incompatible with having one legal system in also allowing any group of two or more parties to a binding agreement to choose what system of rules will be used to resolve any disputes concerning that agreement.

Commercial contracts routinely specify which legal system will be used to deal with any disagreement. Any international contract between companies operating in more than one country will state under which legal system the contract will be interpreted and where any court action will be brought. And it is not at all unusual for such a contract to provide before litigation for a form of arbitration under one of a number of sets of rules - including model rules of arbitration laid down by various United Nations bodies such as UNCITRAL and various private bodies such as the International Chamber of Commerce. Effectively the parties are agreeing that these codes will be used to supplement the law - and this does not conflict either with the law or the principle that we are all equal before the law.

Provided that the same terms of arbitration are available on equal terms to everyone who wants them, and that one of those terms is that all parties to an agreement or dispute have freely agreed to such an arrangement, there is no insuperable problem with recognising that Sharia principles might be acceptable as part of the basis of arbitration in a civil dispute.

There must be one law for everyone. British law must apply to everyone in Britain. That law can, should, and in many cases already does contain the option, available to everyone on an equal basis, for the parties to a civil agreement to decide what additional principles they will be bound by. Accepting that these may include principles of Sharia need not undermine the primacy of British Law.

Two other examples have been suggested of possible changes to the law in respect of Sharia. One concerns stamp duty, the other marriage and divorce.

If it is correct that a change to tax law concerning stamp duty might remove an effective disadvantage from those who use Sharia rules to buy and sell property, this should be looked at. The law should be as fair as possible to all citizens and should take account in an even-handed way of the needs of as many as possible of our citizens.

Marriage, however, is a much more complex issue. Where a couple have married in a religious ceremony, this represents both an agreement under the rules of that faith AND a public contract under the law. Almost all faith denominations including the Church of England, the Roman Catholic Church, the reform and traditional Jewish Synagogues, and just about every other faith group of which I am aware have special rules for marriage over and above those of civil society. All these religions already have the right to ask their own members to comply with those rules in addition to the laws of society, provided there is no conflict with British law. That includes Islam.

However, we need to be very careful about any suggestion that religious courts of any kind should be given the power to exempt people from their obligations under the law.

I agree with Baroness Warsi's comments. The Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action explained the important principle was that of "equality", with people of all backgrounds and religions being treated equally before the law.

She said freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices, but stressed:

"Let's be absolutely clear - all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through Parliament and the courts."

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Footpath diversion proposal

Copeland Councl's planning panel met today. They considered a number of planning applications, and were asked to comment on an application to Cumbria County Council to make permanent the diversion of a public footpath in the vicinity of Whitehaven Golf Course.

Copeland's planning panel decided not to raise objections to the proposed diversion, which will go to the County council for a final decision.

I have suggested that the county should consider imposing conditions to ensure that any costs of this diversion should be borne by the developer and not the taxpayer.

The Right to Know

David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party, has unveiled plans to bring greater transparency to MPs’ expenses.

With the introduction of a “Right To Know” form, all Front Bench members of the Conservative Party will be required to publish comprehensive details of their office expenses. The public is rightly concerned about transparency in politics, and this action will provide reassurance to taxpayers that their money is being used properly.


All MPs are currently required to submit their expenses to the House of Commons, but only a selection of items are made public. Our “Right To Know” proposals will provide greater transparency by requiring a much higher level of disclosure. Details to be published will include:


* A comprehensive list of staff, their positions, and in which office they work.

* Details of family members employed, including their salary band.

* A breakdown of the 'office running costs' to show what is spent on equipment, office rent, telephones, parliamentary resources unit subscriptions, and other areas.

* A breakdown of the 'cost of staying away from main home' to show whether it is spent on rent, mortgage (interest only), hotels, utilities, maintenance and repairs, council tax or other related expenses.


These disclosure rules will apply from the beginning of the next financial year. In the first instance, details will be published at the end of July 2008 on those expenses incurred between 1st April 2008 and 30th June 2008. Subsequently, expenses will be published annually every July.


As well as announcing these new measures, David Cameron reiterated his previous commitments to:


· End the system whereby MPs vote on their own pay

· End the current pension arrangements, so that all new MPs are on an equal footing with the public sector

· Introduce spot checks for MPs, to audit their expenditure.

· Investigate the feasibility of the proposal from the Democracy Taskforce that the House of Commons should directly and centrally employ parliamentary staff.


David Cameron, said:

“All MPs must understand that the public have a right to know more about the use of parliamentary allowances. We need to show greater transparency and I want the Conservative Party to take sensible steps in this direction.”

Monday, February 04, 2008

Labour to discipline MPs for wanting to honour manifesto pledge

Four Labour MPs, all of whom are former ministers, are facing the threat of disciplinary action from the Labour party because they want Labour to honour the manifesto commitment to hold a referendum on the European Union reform treaty.

Every other government in Europe, and every remotely independent body who has compared the two treaties, says that the new reform treaty is substantially the same as the constitutional treaty which was voted down by French and Dutch voters and on which all three main parties in Britain promised at the last election to hold a referendum. The Labour government are just about the only people in Europe who consider the two documents to be different.

The four MPs concerned are Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Graham Stringer and Gisela Stuart. Ms. Stuart was one of the British representatives on the body which actually drafted the original EU consitutional proposals. So if anyone is quailified to say that the new document is largely the same, she is.

The four rebels have been given a dressing down by Labour Chief Whip Geoff Hoon and threatened by Mr Hoon with having the party whip withdrawn over their involvement with the I Want A Referendum (IWAR) group.

But the four MPs facing disciplinary action argue that Labour must stick to its commitment in its 2005 General Election manifesto to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Frank Field on "Conwaygate"

I am grateful to the bloggers on "political betting" for drawing my attention to a balanced and intelligent speech from Frank Field, a Labour MP who would be back in the government if Brown's "Big Tent" policy was reality rather than spin, in the parliamentary debate on Derek Conway. He makes some interesting points about what lessons should and should not be drawn from "Conwaygate" about improving the effectiveness and integrity of public life.

You can see the full debate in Hansard.

"Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead) (Lab): I should like to support the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges in respect of the motion and to draw some general points from his report, as he did. I do so knowing that while we may individually be held in very high esteem by our constituents, collectively that is not so; it is difficult to think how much lower our collective reputation might sink among voters generally.

There are at least four lessons to draw from this report. The first concerns the punishment. The right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) said that other events had come into play and that it was difficult to think of a more severe punishment, but the Committee has been more severe on other Members in other reports, and those Members go around this place as happy as Larry. One of the lessons that I hope that the Committee will think about, not as regards specific cases but generally as regards its policy, is whether our series of punishments is adequate. If this example of what I would see as embezzlement had occurred on this scale in, say, the Refreshment Department, we would expect the person involved to leave the employment of this establishment on the day it was discovered. I believe that we should treat ourselves in a similar manner to how other people employed by this House would be treated.

Secondly, I want to make a plea about the employment of family members. I do so as somebody with no immediate family and so with no vested interest. The circumstances of Members of Parliament and those whom they employ are unique. We work on at least two sites over peculiar hours. I hope that there will be no rush by Members of this House to change the arrangements whereby family members can be employed if they are employed properly. It is proper for us to be clear about expenditure, as the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire said, and it is not improper for us to agree that if family members are employed we can at least present to the Fees Office evidence that they have the qualifications for those jobs. However, given the arguments that I have heard, I would be against changing the rules about Members employing members of their families.

The third lesson concerns audit. I am amazed that the only case that has been put up against audit is based on the sovereignty of Parliament. Our constituents must give a hollow laugh at that when they witness how we have conceded our powers to check—not defeat, but check—the Executive and how we have allowed powers to go willy-nilly from this place to Brussels. There is no comparison between that movement of sovereignty out of this Chamber and the wish that our expenses should be properly audited. It is proper that as events change we should be prepared to consider the case put to us that our expenses should be properly audited.

My last point is about the balance between our salaries and expenses. I have been in the House for long enough to know Members who were here under the Wilson Government. At that time there was wage restraint for the population as a whole, which was applied to us. Members reported to me that the then Chief Whip went round the Tea Room saying to people, “You can vote for the wage restriction on your pay because we’re adjusting allowances—you get the message, don’t you?” The balance between our allowances and our salary is out of kilter. I do not think that our allowances are improper given the job that we are expected to do, but when we ask an outside body to look at our pay, we should be mindful of the fact that although we are overpaid in the eyes of many of our constituents, given their wages, we are certainly not overpaid compared with the responsibilities that we hold and the pay of people with comparable responsibilities elsewhere.

To sum up, first, I question whether the punishment in such cases is adequate. Secondly, I make a plea for the employment of family members. If we did not abide by that, how would we treat partners differently? Would we have some sort of co-habitation rules—and if so, who would we ask to enforce them? The situation would become absurd. I hope that we will consider carefully how we shall audit our expenses. Behind all this—the tension that the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire alluded to—is the extraordinary position that we now find ourselves in whereby our allowances are considerably greater than our basic pay. "

Last day for hospital consultation

Today, Friday 1st February, is the final day of the "Closer to Home" consultation about Hospital and Health services in most of Cumbria.

I strongly encourage any resident who cares about local health services in West Cumbria (or North and Central Cumbria) and has not already taken the opportunity to feed your views back to the PCT to do so today.

You can still feed in your views to the PCT at www.closertohome.org.uk