Categorised | Conservatives, General, Labour, Lib Dems |

MPs’ Expenses: There must be no Amnesty

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!

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18 Comments For This Post

  1. Sandman Says:

    I think, even if they do as you suggest, that it will take another generation or two before people ever look at politicians with respect. Serves them right too. 🙁

  2. CJ Says:

    Sorry. I do think that any who have broken the rules should be punished. However, apart from the fact that I think witch hunts have always been counterproductive as well as being spiteful in nature, the real problem is rules themselves and it always has been. They relied on a “decent chap” approach by the claimants – something a large part of the Commons and now the Lords too wouldn’t understand or even recognise if it got up and bit them in the ass.

    To me it’s simple: pay ALL MP’s £120,000 a year, Ministers another £40,000 on top and senior members, party chiefs etc another £25,000 a year on top of that and the PM yet another £20,000. Those are arbitrary figures and maybe some should be more, or less, but once agreed, they ALL get the fixed amount TAX FREE and NO EXPENSES at all, unless for a specific project with previously stipulated expenses. Oh, and NO additional employment of ANY sort!

    If we came up with something LIKE that (I realise it’s not perfect, but the PRINCIPAL is there) then you DON’T have to pay for yet another load of freeloaders to check on the first lot of freeloaders and so on.

    It’s cheaper all around to pay the right price for the job and NO exes! Plus, of course, you get a better quality of candidate if the money’s right without the need or opportunity for fiddling.

  3. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ CJ: I couldn’t agree less. In my view, MP’s have allowed themselves to get embroiled in an expense scandal of their own making. It is self-evident that these allowances have been used to supplement their income and that they have manipulated the scheme for their own benefit. They all knew what the salaries were before they entered parliament and to whine afterwards is just not cricket!

    Even if these allowances were within the rules, in my view they were self-indulgent and most MP’s knew precisely what they were doing, hence the fact that most did not want the information to be published. It is public money not theirs. They have been caught out and I strongly believe that abuse, is abuse and it cannot nor should it go unpunished. It is not a witch hunt, but a question of morality and fair play. Far from being counterproductive, it demonstrates that MP’s are treated the same as everyone else and that if you do something wrong, that there is a price to pay. It is this fundamental principle that keeps the majority on the right path and within the law.

    Furthermore, whilst I accept that MP’s salaries may be quite low based on the private sector, there are two other factors to take into consideration. The first is that they have other perks, such as an excellent pension scheme. The second is, and this is important, most MP’s are just not that good, they wouldn’t survive 5 minutes in the private sector. If paying more means we get better qualified people then fine, but I would not pay more money for this bunch. Most have no business or life (real world) experience, few ministers are judged on results, instead they are promoted on loyalty rather than merit.

    I would like to see the whole system changed, so that it politics encouraged people from the real world to contribute, rather than academics, journalists, union leaders, teachers and toffs. I would also like to see the title honourable and right honourable removed given that is no longer a pre-requisite.

  4. CJ Says:

    But, in most ways, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Sure, the whole thing is more or less a scam, like ALL Gordon Browns stealth taxes! MPs were clearly told when they joined that expenses were there to bolster a crap salary.

    I couldn’t agree more that what we have at present is in large measure a load of rubbish and that the WHOLE system should be scrapped, not tinkered with! But, if you pay peanuts, you DO get monkeys, so WE are the ones to blame for letting it happen and not getting out there in the streets and complaining loudly about it!

    A new HONEST pay structure for MPs with a good, or even excellent, salary attached to the job FROM THE NEXT ELECTION ONWARDS is VITAL and there should be money available as well to enable decent people to stand WITHOUT being beholden to the existing party machines and the old system. That way we’d hopefully get new, able and genuine blood into parliament.

    To say that it’s a vocation rather than a job is, in my opinion, foolhardy. The result, if you pay little to get people who are “dedicated” rather than looking for a good job, then the result is frequently what we have right now in many such walks of life. I agree that doesn’t mean we should pay the CURRENT lot more, because they’re mostly just not worth it, but it’s a chicken and egg situation, isn’t it? We HAVE to change the culture and the people and THAT means starting with what we’re prepared to pay for good, clever people to do a good, honest job!

  5. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ CJ: We agree. I am all for a sensible reward structure that actively encourages new blood, free from the discredited party machines that allow governments with large majorities to become authoritarian. I would like to see more ‘smart’ people standing as ‘independent Labour’ candidates, ‘independent Conservative’ candidates and so on. I earnestly hope, that the people of this country will demonstrate their distaste for the behaviour of many of our existing MP’s by voting them out, but to allow them do so, there needs to be wider choice of candidates, not necessarily from fringe parties, but independent ones. I am hopeful that, by the next election, enough credible and experienced people will be sufficiently outraged to stand against traditional party appointees. Personally I would have no issue with quality MP’s being paid more, but the current lot are already paid far more than they are worth, yet they still treat the people they are supposed to represent with undisguised contempt.

  6. eamonn white Says:

    I honestly believe that there are more honest people in any prison than there is in Parliament.don’t ask what i can do for the taxpayers but what i can screw the taxpayers for.any expense’s that they claimed should be liable to tax like everyone else is there 50 honest if not 20 is there 20 if not is there 5 if not 5 is there 1 time for mp’s to come clean or fall on their sword honourable mp’s i don’t think so

  7. CJ Says:

    @Frustrated Voter: Oh, yes. I agree 100% with that! I won’t hold my breath waiting for it to happen, though – maybe in your lifetime (if you’re fairly young) 🙂

  8. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ eamonn white: As you state, it would be reassuring if just one MP was to come out and sy that the systems was wrong, they abused it, were going to repay their claims and resign. But, that would assume that we still had honourable people in parliament and in all honesty, there appears to be little or no evidence of that. Even worse, is those that did NOT abuse the system seem unwilling to condemn those that did and in my book, that makes them as bad. Our system of democracy and parliamentary accountability is in one hell of a mess and it won’t get sorted anytime soon…if ever!

  9. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ CJ: Unfortunately I am not particularly young, but I do live in hope. I am sure someone will start a movement aimed at encouraging people to stand in general elections, much like some of the EU ‘upstarts’ such as Jury Team and Libertas. I hear way too many people talk about there being “nothing they can do”, but there is, they should find like-minded people and stand for election themselves. The worst that will happen is they will lose their £500 deposit, at best; we could end up with independent candidates that can truly work to keep the government in check.

    Perhaps I am just an eternal optimist, but I feel inclined to blog on this subject, just to see how many people disagree with me 🙂

  10. Time for Change Says:

    Party leaders need to give serious consideration to have a clear out of the old guard and those that have already given clear examples of their personal morals in respect of probity. Go on a recuitment campaign and put up real people with intelligence, depth and gravitas, these sort of people will make much better MPs. Also, if they are bright, I would not have a problem with paying them higher salaries. At the moment, we are very poorly served by politicians and it needs to change.

  11. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ Time for Change: Agreed. No-one would have a problem with voting in MP’s with life experience, business experience and those with high moral values. Unfortunately, everyone seems to be resigned to the fact that there are only 2 or 3 contenders for power, maybe we should consider letting them know that this is not the case?

  12. john deed Says:

    There are two separate issues here. The first is that those responsible for setting up the rules for MP’s expenses should be brought to book, as should those who sanctioned them. Many MP’s are only playing the system, therefore they can claim to have done nothing wrong. Whilst they have done nothing legally wrong, they sure as hell have done things that are morally wrong.
    The second is the well publicised claims themselves. Why was there no one to vet these claims to verify which were genuine and which were fabricated.
    The ironic thing about the whole debacle is that some of those MP’s were chasing social security scroungers, whilst they themselves were milking their own system.
    The only difference between the two is that MP’s have a handsome salary and pension, whereas the benefits cheats only have what they can claim.

  13. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ John Deed: Quite right, there are two parallel systems working here, one for MP’s and one for everyone else. Little wonder then, that the people of this country feel so aggrieved and remote from their politicians. It is quite clear that MP’s have lost, if they ever had one in the first place, their moral compass. The Green Book, of course, was drafted by MP’s, then voted on by MP’s and then subsequent claims were vetted and authorised by civil servants who reported to a group of MP’s Little wonder that it was a nice cosy arrangement.

    I am left wondering however, that if this type of system is operating with MP’s, what is happening elsewhere, for example in the higher ranks of the civil service, within local councils and for example, in the higher ranks of the armed forces and health service. Perhaps the public should be insisting that there is transparency in all areas, I find it hard to believe that MP’s are the only group that abuse their expenses and allowances. Perhaps, it will be left to the public, not the politicians to reduce the excess and waste within the public sector?

  14. george Says:

    I just linked to this article because I can’t believe Stuart Bell is not saying Speaker Martin will stay til the next election. My new site is called “How to remove your MP.” I don’t know how to do it yet, but I am determined that we will do it.

  15. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ George: I look forward to taking a look at your new site. Alas, I suspect, that unless party leaders are willing to insist that MP’s are deselected, the only other way is for ‘local’ people to do it through the ballot box. It would appear, that even if an MP is corrupt, dishonest or incompetent, there is no way any member of the public can oust an MP. That goes for leaders as well, it truly does may us feel somewhat impotent. If you find a way, then I will be all ears.

  16. C. Hilken Says:

    I di think it is very unfair that a shoplifter who (as many do I believe) offers to return what he or she has stolen, is still prosecuted, whereas an MP who offers to return money claimed in ‘error’ or due to a misjugement ‘misjudgement’ will get off scot free. This is the kind of excuse that shoplifters make. ‘I put it in my bag by mistake’. A shoplifter would get a criminal record. Probably these guys will just leave politics for a lucrative life in business.

  17. Frustrated Voter Says:

    @ C. Hilken: It is precisely these double standards that make the public so contemptuous of MP’s. There can be no room, in a true democracy, for a situation where there is one law for the rulers and another for the ruled.

  18. Small Business Tax Guru Says:

    I’ve been interested in taxations for lengthier then I care to admit, both on the private side (all my working life story!!) and from a legal viewpoint since passing the bar and following tax law. I’ve offered a lot of advice and righted a lot of wrongs, and I must say that what you’ve put up makes utter sense. Please uphold the good work – the more people know the better they’ll be equipped to comprehend with the tax man, and that’s what it’s all about.

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