Senior Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said the Commons would be asked to approve an independent auditing body, which would be made up entirely of independent people, to oversee expense claim made by MP’s. If approved by the Commons, he said that this body would analyse “every claim that is made“. On the face of it, this sounds like a positive move, however, as you might expect, there is a catch. Because, he also made clear on Channel 4 News that this body would only analyse “NEW” claims, that their remit will specifically exclude a retrospective review of prior claims. According to Bell, the setting up of this auditing body would demonstrate that MP’s are both “contrite” and keen that respect for parliament and democracy is restored. Is this man for real?
Does Stuart Bell really believe that the public will accept what amounts to a clumsy and inappropriate fudge. Ignoring past claims, which is what the public is so angered about, would amount to an amnesty for any MP that had been predisposed to lie, cheat, defraud, or deceive in relation to their expenses and/or allowances? Any attempt by Commons authorities to limit the scope of this, or any other independent auditing body, is tantamount to an admission that widespread abuse had taken place and they (MP’s) do not want further investigation. In other words, they want to draw a line under it and move on. Not acceptable. If, as they insist, everything has been “within the rules” then what have they got to worry about? The only way to restore public confidence is to have a truly independent auditing body trawl over past claims, perhaps for the past 10 years. Furthermore, if I was one of the many “honest MP’s”, then I would demand a proper investigation, if, for no other reason, than to persuade the public that there are many honest members of parliament.
Stuart Bell also insisted during his interview that he believed, when all of the expenses are published, that “over 90% of MP’s expenses” will be in order. Really, well I, and I am sure many other people remain to be convinced. Not least, because an MP’s definition of “in order” is to state that it was “within the rules”, whereas the public will have a completely different perspective. The public, quite rightly believe that their money must be spent on ‘necessary’ expenses, not, for example the redecoration of a house shortly before it is sold, or ‘cosmetic’ additions to a property such as mock beams, landscape gardening instead of routine maintenance etc, etc. I personally fail to see how these items could be considered “necessary repairs” or “for the purpose of performing their parliamentary duties“. Perhaps an MP, any MP can enlighten me?
As a voter and taxpayer I demand of my MP, this government and the Commons authorities, that an independent auditing body be appointed, with a remit to review all expense claims submitted by MP’s for the past 10 years. I further demand that this body, and/or an eminent barrister make a determination on each and every claim as to whether it was reasonable, justifiable, legal and/or in the spirit of the “rules“. This must be on the basis that the claimants were considered to be ‘honourable’ and by definition, of the utmost integrity. It has long been understood by parliamentarians that their position demands that they demonstrate very high standards of probity in public life and, adhere to very strict moral and ethical codes in relation to their actions. As a consequence, any auditor or reviewer, must take this into account when they determine the ‘reasonableness’ of any expense claim.
Claims that are deemed unreasonable or not justifiable must be immediately repaid by the MP concerned, irrespective of whether or not these claims had previously been “authorised by the Fees Office“. Further, any claims that are deemed to have been fraudulent or deceitfulmust result in the matter being referred to the police. In addition, HMRC must be instructed that each MP that has made a claim under the ‘second home allowance’ must be investigated to ensure that there has been no attempt to avoid capital gains tax. Similarly, where an MP has benefited from a claim, over and above that strictly necessary for the fulfilment of their duties, HMRC must consider a levy for the ‘benefit in kind’. MP’s should not need reminding that this government has made clear that they intend to pursue all those minded to use tax loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of tax and I am certain, they would not want to be exempted from such a worthwhile cause, especially when they have just hammered anyone earning over £100k with further taxes.
If and only if, a true and transparent investigation is undertaken, with public money returned and/or prosecutions pursued will parliament in general, and MP’s in particular, ever have a hope of re-building public trust. So, here is my final warning to all parliamentarians, stop treating the British public like fools, have the decency to accept that you are all open to the same laws and scrutiny as the rest of us.
It is worthwhile checking out this article on MP’s Expense Claims!