Thursday, 5 June 2014

Recall – Disdain for the Public


Scandal brings change. Scandal was the catalyst for the introduction of the Register of Members Interests. Scandal was responsible for the Code of Conduct that now, albeit insufficiently, guides parliamentary behaviour. Scandal tightens the rules and forces an increase in transparency. In times of scandal, parliament is vulnerable, and when scandal takes place near election time, then it can often prompt promises that would otherwise not be made.

When the expenses scandal broke, the 2010 election was just around the corner. Faced with a huge public backlash, all three parties promised to introduce a policy that would allow for constituents to carry out a petition to recall their MP from office if they were found to have carried out any ‘serious wrongdoing’. The Conservative manifesto, said if such behaviour took place, then it would
act as a trigger that will allow a petition to be raised, and if that petition was signed by at least 10% of the electorate, then this would kick-start a by-election. No longer would the voting public have to rely on an MP having enough dignity to resign from their position or for the local party to de-select them. The Recall policy, which also entered the coalition agreement, would increase the power of the electorate, act as a genuine threat to any MP thinking of acting like a Patrick Mercer and go some way to restoring trust in a parliament often seen as a detriment to democracy.

Such a policy is not new. By the beginning of this century, a form of recall was already implemented at some level of government in around 24 countries worldwide, including; six of the 26 Swiss cantons, the Canadian Province of British Columbia, Venezuela, the Philippines, South Korea, Argentina and Taiwan.’  House of Commons Library Standard Note, Recall Elections, Charley Coleman and Oonagh Gay, January 2012, p 4; International IDEA, Direct Democracy: the International IDEA Handbook, 2008, p 115  Back

The UK government is playing catch up, but they are reluctant to even do that.

A White Paper on Recall was put forward, which was roundly condemned by the select committee on Political and Constitutional Reform, as being so restricted, that under the government proposals, “constituents themselves would not be able to initiate a recall petition.” This intentionally “weakened effort” they said, would do nothing to “increase public confidence in politics…and could even reduce confidence by creating expectations that are not fulfilled.” Furthermore, they felt there was no “gap in the disciplinary procedures” that needed filling by the introduction of Recall. Rather, they suggested the power to expel Members who are guilty of serious wrongdoing should be used, which as we know has only taken place in three times in the last century. This they concluded “should be regarded as an active option; rather than a theoretical possibility.”

This too however, would leave the sanction to be imposed on MPs in their own hands.

Part of the problem was their ability to agree on the ambiguous definition of ‘serious wrongdoing’ and what would amount to a trigger for a by-election. A YouGov survey carried out last year asked the public what behaviour they thought should act as a trigger. After all, if this policy was about empowering the electorate, then presumably they would want a say. The survey provided eleven options ranging from ‘a crime serious enough to receive a prison sentence’, ‘taking bribes’, or ‘lying in Parliament.’

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, felt that the best guide to go by would be if anybody breached the code of conduct. However, there is clearly a difference between somebody forgetting to declare an interest in a debate, compared to somebody offering access to policy in exchange for money. One of the other suggested ‘triggers’ for Recall would be if an MP was given a custodial sentence of twelve months or less. Professor Anne Twomey is an expert in constitutional law based in Australia with extensive knowledge of Recall systems in other countries. She suggests the ‘primary types of actions for which voters would like the opportunity to recall Members are those that involve the misuse or abuse of a Member's position and do not usually involve prison terms—such as breaches of entitlements, acts of dishonesty, misuse of parliamentary privilege, nepotism, making decisions that favour family members or business associates, and the like.’

The promise of Recall, made in the face of rising public anger at the widespread abuse of the expenses system, was first weakened, and then dropped, which led to a blame game within the coalition as to where the blame lay. The failure of the Conservative party to keep to their election promise greatly angered one their own MPs, Zac Goldsmith, who had pushed for the policy to be realised and created his own version of the Bill. “Parties can stuff their manifestos full of clever promises” he said, “but if voters don't believe them, they may as well present blank sheets…How is it possible that our leaders still don't understand that the single biggest cause of people's hatred of them is deceit?”

Then up stepped the Queen to announce the government would indeed introduce a Recall bill would be created but the power remains in the hands of MPs who will effectively be able to veto a move for recall.

The hammer blow for democracy, transparency and localism amounts to the equivalent of government laughing in the face of the electorate. When their hands were caught in the taxpayer’s pockets, for flipping mortgages, redecorating, getting media training, hanging baskets, dog food, duck ponds, bath mats, gardening, you name it, then they were only too quick to apologise and promise Recall.

Nobody was saying introducing a Recall bill was simple, but to leave it in the hands of the very same people who created the scandal that required the bill is to laugh in the face of the public and make a mockery of their apology to the public over their excessive and sometimes criminal pilfering of public money.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Mass EU call for transparency in US/EU trade talks


‘People have a right to know what is at stake’

As the 5th round of negotiations on the US/EU free trade agreement kicks off in the US, 250 organisations, including from the UK, have today sent a joint letter to EU Trade Commissioner, Karel de Gucht, demanding transparency in this massive but secretive deal. 

The letter, signed by a broad range of consumer, union, environment and other organisations calls for negotiating texts for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to be released to the public, as well as information on ‘who is lobbying who’ in relation to the deal.

Although there is some talk of the Commission releasing its negotiating mandate (which was leaked a year ago), the actual offers being made on behalf of 850 million people are still secret, with the intention to keep the negotiating texts secret until TTIP negotiations are complete.

The main thrust of TTIP is ‘harmonising’ the regulations of the US and the EU – across all areas. There are big differences between the EU and US in health and safety regulatory protection. Thus civil society groups are concerned that standards e.g. on food and chemical safety, data protection and public service models, will be degraded -  with this happening behind closed doors.

‘It’s  absolutely unacceptable that key TTIP documents are not only being kept from the public,  but that MPs are not allowed to know what is going forward in this supposed ‘trade’ deal either. This joint statement shows the breadth of resistance to this secrecy’ according to Linda Kaucher of StopTTIP uk. 

This deal will allow corporations to sue governments for varying regulations after commitments are made and signed up. Yet the commitments being made are being kept secret.

The organisations are therefore calling for step-by-step release of the negotiating texts, in all chapters of the agreement, and also of records of the lobbying meetings that have taken place for this corporate-agenda deal.  Their letter references EU commitments to ‘right-to-know’ and to promoting public participation in the Aarhus Convention.

Joint letter to Trade Commissioner calling for transparency:
Contact: Linda Kaucher  for StopTTIP uk  0207 265 9307, 0777 043 5321 Website stopTTIP.net

Open Letter: Civil society demand Transparency on Transatlantic Trade Agreement


Commissioner Karel de Gucht
European Commissioner for Trade
European Commission
BE-1049 Brussels
May 19, 2014

Civil society call for full transparency about the EU-US trade negotiations
Dear Commissioner De Gucht,

The undersigned organisations are writing to express deep concerns about the lack of transparency around the ongoing trade talks on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). We are calling on you to open the negotiation process to the public, by releasing the negotiating mandate, documents submitted by the EU, and negotiating texts.

The European Commission has repeatedly stated that trade and investment between the European Union (EU) and the United States (US) are already highly integrated, and that the main focus of TTIP will be to achieve regulatory convergence by removing so-called non-tariff barriers to trade. This means that the outcome has much less to do with traditional trade issues such as tariffs, than with the regulations and standards that apply in the EU and the US and that affect every single aspect of citizens’ daily lives – from the quality of the food we eat to the safety of chemicals we use, the energy we consume, or the impact of financial services on each of us.

Civil society groups in the EU and in the US have voiced concerns that this might lower standards and remove safeguards across the board. They have requested greater transparency about the negotiations to address these concerns. The setting up of a stakeholder advisory group for the negotiations by the EU – although an improvement compared to previous negotiations – is far from sufficient to make the process fully transparent. Members of the group will have limited access to the negotiating texts under strict confidentiality rules, and these will remain out of reach for the rest of interested civil society groups and citizens.

The European Commission has argued that secrecy in this process is inevitable because this is a matter of international relations. If these negotiations are intended to affect domestic regulations, standards and safeguards on each side, then citizens have the right to know what is being put on the table, and how this is being negotiated. The standard legislative process in the EU allows for public scrutiny of each step of policy-making as well as full involvement of the European Parliament.

We would urge that those negotiations should comply with the same level of openness. The process should also allow for public accountability of the European Commission for the negotiating positions that it takes. Given that many of the issues under negotiation relate to the environment, this would also reflect the EU’s obligations under Article 3(7) of the Aarhus Convention to promote access to information, public participation and access to justice in international environmental decision-making processes
1.


Furthermore there are several examples of international negotiation processes, which provide a greater degree of openness to civil society than the negotiations on TTIP do, and whereby negotiating documents are disclosed.
Examples include:

- The World Trade Organisation (WTO): Even the WTO, which is regularly the subject of criticisms by civil society and member states, makes submissions made by member states in the negotiations, as well as offers, and reports by committee chairs available on its website2.

- The United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC): The negotiating texts and submissions from the parties are circulated before the negotiations start. Observers, including external stakeholders, attend the sessions, and can provide submissions on request by the parties
3.

- The World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO): Draft negotiating documents are being released all along the process. Meetings are open to the public, and webcasted
4.

- The Aarhus Convention: Meetings of the governing body and its subsidiary bodies are as a rule public. Accredited observers can participate in meetings of parties and in drafting groups working in collaboration with parties to develop text during the negotiations. They have the same speaking rights as parties
5.

With this letter, we would like to restate our call for openness and public accountability of the TTIP negotiations. Without full transparency, there can be no meaningful engagement of civil society representatives in the process.

Basic transparency requirements include making the following available for the public at the earliest possible stage and at regular intervals:
- The text of the EU’s negotiating mandate;
- The initial position papers tabled by the EU;
- Any further papers submitted by the EU in the course of the negotiations that detail or explain the position of the EU on the topic, and that are being used in the course of the negotiations with the other party;
- The draft versions and final versions of individual chapters as well as the whole agreement at all steps of preparation and evolution (and at least before closing the negotiations and initialling so that parliaments and the public can still assess the outcome and make comments and recommendations).

If the European Commission is serious about openness and engagement of the public, it should also proactively make the following available:
- All written communications between the European Commission and other European institutional bodies (European Parliament and Member States) on this issue;

5 Aarhus Convention Task Force on Public Participation in International Forums, Innovations in Public Participation in International Forums – Advanced Draft, 23 February 2011, (“Innovations draft”), available at http://www.unece.org/env/pp/ppif/6meeting/Innovations in public participation in international forums - draft for consideration by PPIF Task Force v.1 .do

All agendas and minutes of meetings between the European Commission and the European Parliament and Member States on this issue;
- All written communications between the European Commission and third parties –including industry and lobby organisations – on this issue;
- All agendas and minutes of meetings between the European Commission and third parties – including industry and lobby organisations – on this issue.

Yours sincerely,
Magda Stoczkiewicz
Director, Friends of the Earth Europe
Contact: Paul de Clerck, Friends of the Earth Europe
paul@milieudfensie.nl ; +32-494-380-959

On behalf of:
Signatories: Co-initiators
11.11.11
AccessInfo Europe
ArbeiterKammer Europa (AK Europa)
Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU)
ATTAC European Network
Campagna Stop TTIP Italia
ClientEarth
Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO)
European Consumer Organisation (BEUC)
European Digital Rights Initiative (EDRI)
Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF)
European Environmental Bureau (EEB)
European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)
European Public Health Alliance (EPHA)
Finance Watch
Friends of the Earth Europe (FoEE)
Greenpeace
Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL)
LobbyControl
Powershift
Re:Common
Seattle to Brussels
SOMO (Centre for Research on Multinational Corporations)
Spinwatch
Transnational Institute (TNI)
Transparency International EU (TI-EU)
Transatlantic Consumers Dialogue
Transport and Environment (T&E)

Network (AEFJN)
Afrika Kontakt
Aitec-IPAM
Alternative Informatics Turkey
An Taisce The National Trust for Ireland
Article 19
Asamblea Las Rozas
Asociación Qué hacen
Attac Austria
Attac Germany
Attac Nuernberg
Attac Paderborn
ATTAC Portugal
ATTAC SPAIN
Berlin Water Council
Berlin Water Table
BI Fracking freies Hessen
BI lebenswertes Korbach e.V.
Both ENDS’
Breadboard
BUND Naturschutz in Bayern e.V.
Buy Responsibly Foundation
CADTM - Committee for Abolition of the Third World Debt
Campaign for Real Farming
Central America Women's Network
Central America Women's Network (CAWN)
Centre for Sustainable Development
Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt: Polska
Change Partnership
Chaos Computer Club
Climate Alliance
RED CIMAS
Civil Euro Perspective
CNCD-11.11.11
Collectif Roosevelt
Commons Network
Compass
Compassion in World Farming
Danish Ecological Council
Danish Society for a Living Sea
Deutscher Naturschutzring (DNR) - German League for Nature and Environment
Diritto Di Sapere
Dutch Elasmobranch Society (NEV)
Earth Open Source
Earth Watch Media
Ecological Movement of Patras
Ecologistas en Acción
EcoNexus
Ecoropa
Ekumenicka akademie Praha
ELA – Basque Workers Solidarity
Engineering Without Borders Spain
Entrepueblos/Entrepobles/Entrepobos/Herriarte
Environmental Pillar
Esquerra Unida País Valencià
European Academy for Environmental Medicine EUROPAEM
European Coalition for Corporate Justice (ECCJ)
European Coordination Via Campesina
European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)
European Transport Workers' Federation
Fair Trade Advocacy Office
FAIR TRADE HELLAS
FairFin
Fair–Fish International association
Fís Nua
Food & Water Europe
Forum Informationsfreiheit (FOI)
Foundation for a Free Information Infrastructure (FFII)
Foundation for environment and agriculture
Foundation of the "Fair Trade Coalition" (Poland)
Fracking Free Ireland
Fresh Eyes - People to People Travel cic
Friends of the Earth Czech Republic
Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland
Friends of the Earth Ireland
Friends of the Earth Malta
Gaia Foundation
Generations Futures
German NGO Forum on Environment and Development
Gewerkschaftlicher Linksblock
GLOBAL 2000-Friends of the Earth Austria
Global Responsibility Platform
Global Vision Foundation
GM-free Ireland Network
GMWatch
GMWatch UK
Green Budget Europe
Green Zone Foundation (Fundacja Strefa Zieleni)
Greenpeace Saar
Grupo Portugal Parceria Transatlântica de Comércio e Investimento
Hallintovahdit ry, Finland (Administration Watch, NGO)
Hausfeld & Co LLP
Health Action International Europe
Heaven or sHell
Hegoa Instituto de Estudios sobre el Desarrollo y la Cooperación Internacional
HuertAula Comunitaria de Agroecología Cantarranas de la Universidad Complutense de Madrid
IG Übersetzerinnen Übersetzer
Iniciativa por la Soberanía Alimentaria de Madrid
Initiative bessere Zukunft
Initiative für Netzfreiheit
Institut Veblen
Institute for Ecology and Action Anthropology, infoe e.V.
Institute of Global Responsibility (IGO)
Irish Doctors Environmental Association
Iuridicum Remedium, Czech Republic
Jordens Vänner
Kalasantiner Kongregation
Katholische Jungschar Österreichs
KBW - Katholishches Bildungswerk Wien
KIFF – Keep Ireland Fracking Free
Kritische Oekologie / ifak e.V.
Latinamerikagrupperna
Les Amis de la Terre France
Lithuanian national consumer federation
Local Urban Development European Network(LUDEN)
Locale Globale
MIM Moral in Motion
Modern Poland Foundation
MyGR Technology Ltd
Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU)
NaZemi
Network Social Responsibility (NeSoVe)
NOAH - FOE Denmark
Nordic Financial Unions
Nuclear-Free Future Award
ÖBV-Via Campesina.Austria
ÖGB Europabüro
OroVerde - Tropical Forest Foundation
Panoptykon
Partido Humanista de Sevilla
Permaculture Association (Britain)
Pesticide Action Network Germany (PAN Germany)
Platform Aarde Boer Consument
Polish Fair Trade Association
Powershift Belgium
PresidioEuropa No TAV
Pro Ethical Trade Finland
Pro Natura
PROVIEHVgtM e.V.
Quaker Council for European Affairs
Red Huertos Urbanos Comunitarios de Madrid-ReHd Mad!
Request Initiative
Research & Degrowth
RESEAU ENVIRONNEMENT SANTE
RESULTS UK
RETS – (Spanish Collective, human rights)
Save Rosia Montana Madrid
Sciaena - Marine Sciences and Cooperation
Seas At Risk
Send a Cow
Slow Food
Slow Food Germany
Soil Association
SOL - People for Solidarity, Ecology and Lifestyle
Solidarity Sweden Latin America/ Solidaridad Suecia America Latina
Stichting Schaaliegasvrij Nederland
StopTTIP uk
SÜDWIND
Swedish Society for Nature Conservation
The Open Knowledge Foundation
TheStory.ie
Trade Justice Movement
TransFair e.V./Fairtrade Deutschland
Treffpunkt mensch & arbeit Braunau
Tschecho-Slovakisch-Österreichisches Kontaktforum
Umweltdachverband
Umweltinstitut München e.V.
Unión Sindical Obrera (USO)
VIBE!AT – Austrian Association for Internet Users
VIDC Vienna Institute
VIER PFOTEN / FOUR PAWS
VOICE (Voice of Irish Concern for the Environment
Vrijschrift
VSF – Justicia Alimentaria Global
War on Want
Wasser in Bürgerhand
WEED - World Economy, Ecology & Development
West Country Brokers
WIDE – Network for Women´s Rights and Feminist Perspectives in Development
Working group Food Justice
World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)
WWF European Policy Office
Za Zemiata, FoE Bulgaria

Signatories: US
Activate USA
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Bay Area Light Brigade
Center for Food Safety
Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL)
Center for Rights
Citizens Trade Campaign
Consumer Federation of America
Earth in Brackets
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Fight for the Future
Food & Water Watch
Friends of the Earth-US
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
OpenTheGovernment.org
SumOfUs.org
Sunlight Foundation
Signatories: Other Regions
Australian Food Sovereignty Alliance
Centre for Law and Democracy
Common Frontiers
IFMSA - Canada / Canadian Federation of Medical Students
Iraqi Journalists Rights Defense Association (IJRDA)
Mauritius Trade Union Congress
Migration and Sustainable Development Alliance
PAPDA - Haitian Platform to Advocate Alternative Development
Plataforma Interamericana de Derechos Humanos, Democracia y Desarrollo (PIDHDD)

Signatories: International
350.org
ActionAid International
Association for Progressive Communications
Global Marshall Plan Initiative
Humane Society International
OpenMedia.org
Oxfam International

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Case of Baroness Barker - Two bills -Two Opportunities


Please supply your evidence that the individuals named below have furthered their own interests. Please supply as much detail as you have. Thank you, Liz Barker”

The Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Barker wrote these words after she and all her fellow peers had received a list of parliamentarians and their financial links to companies and individuals involved in healthcare.

The list of over 200 parliamentarians had proved annoying to the Baroness, especially because at the time, they were all debating, amending and voting on the bill to help it become an Act.

One month after the legislation gained Royal Ascent, the Baroness
incorporated a consultancy company, which she co-owns and that works with the third sector to assist in their quest for NHS contracts.

The company, Barker & Woodward Consultancy Limited offers advice to third sector organisations through a two-day course called the “the right prescription”. This service offers information on how ‘third sector organisations can constructively work for the NHS’ and
advice about ‘competitors and development of strategic partnerships.’

The “right prescription” can
cost up to £400, which fits into Ms Barker’s personal request that we supply ‘as much detail’ that we have that ‘individuals’ have ‘furthered their own interests’.

Baroness Barker was the
Spokesperson on Health for the Liberal Democrats up until 2010 and has since remained a member of their Health and Social Care Team. She herself debated, made multiple key amendments and voted on the Health and Social Care bill, helping it become an Act.

One of the amendments drafted by Ms Barker during the Health bill progress, was in the area of conflicts of interests. It
read "CCGs must make arrangements for managing conflicts and potential conflicts of interest in such a way as to ensure that they do not, and do not appear to, affect the integrity of the group's decision-making processes". She concluded “It is extremely important that these groups not only set out to uphold the highest standards but that they are seen to uphold them.”

The ability to see into the future is a skill all good entrepreneurs’ must have, but perhaps when you are producing the legislation, it is easier to know what lies ahead. One month after today’s Care bill hearing, Ms Barker’s company is offering a briefing on its content in exchange for money to the third sector.

The third sector is playing a key role in the dismantling of the NHS, acting as a Trojan horse to allow private healthcare companies to come in and take over the running of services. They lobbied alongside private health for Jeremy Hunt to not water down privatisation regulations, they lied when they said they were neutral over the outcome of the Health bill, and their Chief Executive acted as a handy inside man at a critical moment in the health bill’s progress. The reward for the third sector has been 70% of all NHS contracts awarded since the implementation of the Health Act, have gone to private firms.

The Code of conduct that all Members sign up to states that ‘Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.’

The loop-hole that allows Members of both Houses to vote on legislation when they have a financial interest is ridiculous. Now Ms Barker is about to vote on the Care bill, helping it to become an Act and then one month later gain revenue from imparting that information.

Local councillors must abide by a stricter regime, which is imposed on them by parliament. If they have a financial or non-financial interest, then they must neither ‘participate in any discussion of the matter at the meeting’ nor ‘participate in any vote, or further vote.’

Currently the government has no intention to reform the rules that govern their own working life. In response to a petition placed on the No10 website that demanded ‘No member of Parliament may speak or vote in a debate on legislation which could financially benefit any commercial operation in which they have a financial interest’, they replied that it would “not be practical” to introduce any curbs to such behaviour because a “significant number of legislative provisions in any year may have beneficial financial implications for all or most commercial operations.”

Exactly!

See the latest list of parliamentary recent or present financial interests to healthcare here.