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The only idea you need: make all laws apply to MPs

Comment 7th July 2010

Dear Mr Clegg

I think it's great that you've set up this website. It shows that you are committed to real engagement in the democratic process, which is an excellent thing.

However, you must be wondering now how you are going to sort through all the ideas here. There are thousands of ideas, and although doubtless many of the dafter ones can be ruled out pretty quickly, many of the other suggestions are actually pretty good, so it must be very hard to know where to start.

Let me help you. I would like to suggest just one law that you could introduce to help businesses emerge from the shackles of red tape. This is not to say that the other ideas aren't good: many of them are excellent, but all the good ideas will emerge naturally over the course of this parliament if you implement my idea first.

My idea is simple: make sure that every single business regulation applies to MPs and ministers in their own offices and departments, only more so. MPs are probably exempt from a lot of laws at the moment, and even if they're not technically exempt, someone at a high level has clearly taken a decision not to enforce them. For example, I can't take on an unpaid intern in my business, as I would be breaking minimum wage legislation, yet if you look on the w4mp.org website, you'll see many MPs advertising for unpaid interns. That kind of double standard has to stop.

But it needs to go further than that. The laws that apply to the rest of us need to apply much more vigorously to MPs. You need to set up an independent enforcement body (perhaps headed by a senior police officer), with the job of proactively looking for any breaches of any business regulation whatsoever among MPs and ministers. For example, I am required to update my health and safety policy annually. I actually do that, because I'm a good boy, but if I didn't, I'd probably get away with it unless there were some accident at my company that got investigated. However, with my idea, inspectors would regularly inspect the health and safety policy in every MPs office. If it's 366 days since it was last updated, then the MP is prosecuted. No ifs, no buts. You could imagine something pretty similar for every other bit of business regulation.

And if MPs are prosecuted, penalties would have to be more serious. Any fines levied could be at 5 times the level that would be applied to a business caught for the same offence (and no claiming the fines on expenses!), and if they do anything serious enough to merit a custodial sentence, then you'd lock them up for longer than you would a member of the public. Needless to say, ministers would be personally liable for any breaches of the law in their own departments.

And it goes without saying that MPs would have to fill in a P11D for all their expenses, which would be gone over in minute detail by some of the meanest inspectors that HMRC has to offer (and trust me, they are not lacking in such people).

Once that regime is in place, I think you'd find that parliament would pretty quickly vote for most of the other good ideas suggested on this site, without your having to do anything specific to encourage it.

Why does this matter?

Because if MPs could see just how restrictive their laws were, they would take a different attitude to them, and businesses all over the country would flourish.


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