There have been two big issues at Westminster over the last couple of weeks. The first is Reform of the House of Commons. The second is the discovery that the Conservative Peer, Lord Ashcroft, has not paid the tens of millions of pounds of tax that William Hague said he would pay when he proposed him for a seat in the Lords in 1999.
I think these issues matter to people locally because a promise about something like paying tax should be kept. Like everyone else who works and pays their taxes, I hate tax avoidance.
Lord Ashcroft is the Tory Deputy Chairman. He was turned down for a peerage in 1999. William Hague (who was then Tory leader) recommended Ashcroft for a peerage again on the back of a promise that Ashcroft would return to live in Britain and that it would cost him, and benefit the Treasury, “tens of millions a year in tax”. .
Those millions of pounds of taxes should have helped to pay for police, hospitals and schools. However, we now learn that Lord Ashcroft did not pay the taxes that William Hague promised. What Lord Ashcroft did do is donate millions of pounds to Tory candidates in marginal seats. He may be their largest single donor of all time.
On Wednesday, we had a debate in Parliament which touched on this issue. My colleague, who is the Labour MP for the marginal seat of Pendle, brought in a huge pile of glossy leaflets and he told us that these had been paid for by money from Lord Ashcroft.
I think there are still questions to be answered about this affair and the British public have the right to know the answers. I hope we can reform the funding of elections in future so that this sort of funding would not be allowed.
We have also had two debates and a series of votes which brought in important changes to the way the House of Commons works. After the first debate, we made changes so that the petitions of local people will be handled better and the public can have more of a say over which issues are debated in the Commons.
Later, we brought in changes to make the membership of our select committees more democratic and to allow MPs to move private motions to be voted on. These changes will help to make Parliament more accountable to local people and mean that the MP for Worsley and Eccles South will find it easier to raise our local issues at Westminster in future.