Friday, February 06, 2009

House Points: Government capital spending and Parliamentary standards

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Frozen funds

Britain shivered. Wolves and polar bears patrolled the frozen Thames while junior civil servants held snowball fights and the more conscientious MPs arrived on skis.Or so we were told. The newspapers always get overexcited when it snows on South-East England. Personally, I enjoyed an uneventful journey from Leicestershire to Manchester and back on Monday, but it sounds as though London fell to pieces.

Inside the Palace of Westminster it was the Liberal Democrats’ turn to decide the topics for two Commons debates. The first was on government capital expenditure and the second on Parliamentary standards and constitutional reform.

Vince Cable froze his listeners’ blood (not that it was exactly warm to start with) by pointing to the “the virtually complete collapse of private finance initiative projects”. He told the House that he had been shown the minutes of a meeting of council leaders from the South-West. They reported repeated appeals for the Department for Transport to say whether the investment projects that the government had announced were going to happen. The leaders never got an answer.

This matters in a world where we need to revive the economy through public spending, because this government has been relying so heavily on these projects to deliver that stimulus. And even where the projects are still operating, they are hard to evaluate them because of the veil of secrecy that shrouds them.

David Heath was more fun, pointing out that the House of Lords contains “a convicted perjurer, a convicted fraudster and a convicted fire raiser”. (I should point out that they are not all the same person, so things are not quite as alarming as they at first sounded.)

He called for reform of both Commons and Lords, and ended in fine style:

“We cannot make our politics work unless people have trust in the political system, and hints at reform are no longer enough ... unless we start the process, our democracy will not be fit for purpose. It is demonstrably not fit for purpose at the moment and there is no better time for us to make a start.”

Meanwhile, at Westminster Tube station, disconsolate penguins swathed in scarves waited in vain for a train to Stanmore.


Anonymous said...


I don't want too sound too precious, but actually it was me you were quoting, not m'learned friend D Howarth.

David Heasth (often confused!)

Anonymous said...

...and I can't type

Jonathan Calder said...

Apologies, David. I have corrected it here and shall do so in Lib Dem News next week too.

How wonderful to live in an age when there are so many Liberal MPs you get them confused!