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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: June 2012

Introduction

Summary

Most introductions for previous editions of this book have been written in periods of high drama, crisis and feverish activity relating to secrecy or scandals connected to the release of information. The episode concerning MPs expenses' claims, which commenced with a freedom of information (FOI) request, continues that tradition. In May 2009, the promise of major constitutional change was uppermost in the minds of political leaders. A problem that had not been properly addressed by the authorities – what should MPs be paid for being an MP? – led to a disreputable system for expenses that was ill conceived, effectively un-policed and in which greed and cynicism were encouraged. I cannot recall the reputation of Parliament being at a lower ebb. Ministers and celebrated parliamentarians were standing down or faced de-selection. The affair led to the resignation of the Speaker, the first such resignation since 1695. Widespread reform was being promised including efforts to spread power more widely, reinvigorating local government, encouraging independent minded individuals to stand for Parliament, reforms of MPs expenses and independent audit and monitoring of those claims for expenses. The sights quickly moved to empowering MPs and select committees in their scrutiny of the executive (see chapter 9), proportional representation, an elected upper chamber, fixed-term parliaments and reining in the prerogatives of the prime minister (see chapter 9). That old chestnut, a written constitution, soon emerged. The latter would confront two shibboleths of the British constitution: the Crown and parliamentary sovereignty.

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