Members of Parliament have a duty to demonstrate leadership in the observation of the ‘7 Nolan principles of public life’, as set out in the Parliamentary code of conduct. Ultimately, it will be the public, not the MPs’ or their leaders, that determine whether or not MPs’ involved in the expense scandal have observed those principals or simply paid lip service to them. I have reproduced the 7 Nolan principals below;
Selflessness : 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.
Integrity : Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might influence them in the performance of their official duties.
Objectivity : In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Accountability : Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Openness : Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Honesty : Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Leadership : Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.
MPs, would do well to consider the following principles; Selflessness and Accountability, whilst leaders need to take account of the principle behind Leadership. Party leaders should not need reminding that it is not acceptable for ‘wayward’ MPs to simply be moved from the front line. That is a fudge. Those MPs that cannot justify their expense claims as wholly, necessarily and exclusively in the performance of their Parliamentary duties must be deselected and denied the opportunity of ever standing for the party again. It doesn’t matter if many of their colleagues were at it, each and every member of parliament has to be responsible for his or her own actions. Anything less that deselection would not demonstrate leadership, but weakness, moreover, it would imply that the party itself condones such abuse.
Further, an MP that may be guilty of fraud or deception in relation to their expense claims must be referred to the Police, not by an outside body or a member of the public, but the party itself. If there is no intent to commit fraud or deception, then the MP will be offered the opportunity to clear his or her name, public indignation is not sufficient to presume innocence. Our MPs should have nothing to fear from a system that they, as ‘law makers’, have themselves introduced or amended.
I would remind all party leaders that this is public money not theirs, so the benefit of the doubt must not be given to any MP unless or until the public has been consulted and agreed. The public are the aggrieved party. For any party leader that is struggling with this concept, I would argue that the clue is contained within one of the 7 Nolan principles “Holders of public office should take decisions solely in terms of the public interest“, in other words, party interests cannot be placed first.