Is John Healey as dumb as a bag of spanners?

In the grand scheme of things, not a lot of people know the rules MPs are subject to when it comes to using parliamentary stationery.

If you were an MP with a boatload of postage-paid envelopes, you could probably abuse them with impunity, and send them out unsolicited to 95% of your constituents without getting any redress.

But there is one group of people who are much more likely to know the rules: people who work in politics. A subset of those are councillors. And if you are really keen on getting shopped to the House authorities, who best to try it on with but councillors of an opposing party?

So, in the run up to Lib Dem Spring conference, Labour Shadow Minister John Healey wrote a letter to 295 Lib Dem council group leaders with party political content, and was duly shopped to the authorities. It was the on the issue of the Health bill – and from the same John Healey who went to the conference hoping for a massive dust-up and appeared a little surprised at the mature discussion he witnessed. He has repaid the cost of headed paper and pre-paid envelopes, and when he was slapped on the back a second time, also managed to cough up the cost of lasering the letters.

After a fair bit of ill-tempered arguing, which appears to boil down to Healey saying the rules shouldn’t apply to him because he is a front-bencher, the shadow minister was ultimately ordered to apologise to the House.

And the moral of the story? a) don’t break the rules and b) don’t break them in front of a group of people with a ready made motive to dob you in!

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Is this the first draft of a UK constitution?

The Cabinet Office have published a book they calling the Draft Cabinet Manual.

You can download a PDF of it.

Here’s a bit of churnalism from the press release.

The Cabinet Office has published a draft Cabinet Manual which sets out the main laws, rules and conventions affecting the conduct and operation of Government.

The Manual gives an overview of the UK system of Government, including how the Executive – the Government and the Civil Service – relates to Her Majesty the Queen, devolved administrations and international institutions such as the European Union (EU).

It reflects the importance of Parliament and Cabinet government, and the democratic nature of the UK’s constitutional arrangements.

The manual is primarily intended to provide a guide for members of Cabinet, other Ministers, and Civil Servants in the carrying out of government business, but will also serve to bring greater transparency about the mechanisms of Government, informing the public whom the government serves.

The Cabinet Manual has been published in draft and comments are welcomed by 8 March 2011 and can be sent to: <!–
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EDM126 and the dead cat bounce

Today in a spare moment, I have been dealing with post that arrived some time ago and has mounted up. Papers that arrive in clear plastic envelopes and are clearly non-urgent are carefully filed until I have enough spare time to deal with them properly. Amongst those are Total Politics, What’s Brewing? and Lib Dem News (although that at least arrives in an environmentally and post office-friendly C5 brown paper envelope). When I came to deal with the pile, I also found a mailing from last year from the Cats Protection League including raffle tickets that had to be returned by mid-December. Whoops.

Whilst I was going through all these envelopes – and for the most part recycling them unread, sorry! – I found a headline on the Cats Prot mailing that caught my eye: MPs call for action.

The story was about an EDM tabled in the last Parliament calling for action from local authorities – so as a councillor, I was hooked from the start. The rather gruesome EDM pointed out that local authorities are responsible for removing from the road the bodies of animals killed in traffic accidents. Then the EDM called on local authorities to invest in microchip scanners so that they could check to see whether those animals were cared-for pets with registered owners.

It does make sense. If your cat is killed on the road, unless it happens right outside your house, you may never know. So all you know is that your cat has wandered off and not returned. If your local council were to find your cat, the chances are you’d never hear about it. So urging authorities to invest a very small amount in microchip scanners could do a fair bit for the peace of mind of the owners of missing pets.

The initial EDM referred to in the magazine closed when Parliament changed session last November, but the campaign has been resurrected in the new Parliamentary session as EDM 126, tabled by our own Mike Hancock MP. The new EDM has not yet attracted as many signatures as its predecessor, so do urge your own MP to sign it if you agree, and if you’re fortunate enough to also be a councillor, why not find out what your authority does about this issue?

Ros Scott unleashes hell

Poor old Lord Adonis. Party President and Parliamentary Gem of the Week Baroness Scott got on her feet to ask a simple question about how there might be the vaguest possible chance that, you know, rail services in Britain might not be terrible for the rest of eternity:

Asked By Baroness Scott of Needham Market

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they advise Network Rail on the strategic impact of its engineering works programme.

Ros Scott is a transport specialist and no stranger to trains, but I wonder if she anticipated the ten minutes of close questioning from all sides of the house that got at just how awful rail services have been in the recent past? Why haven’t we learned from other countries’ engineering practice? Why is the Misery Line not open at weekends? Why hasn’t our noble friend published a report? Should Network Rail bosses get bonuses?

Do go and read the account on Ros’s blog.