Thursday, 4 February 2010

MPs' Expenses [UPDATED]

This an absolutely glorious subject. MP - the only occupation in the country where it's apparently OK to commit tax evasion of the worst kind, in some cases tantamount to fraud, and get away with it.

Nick Robinson threw a bit of clarity into the matter with the publication of Sir Thomas Legg's report into MP's expenses. Or not. Actually, Mr. Robinson pointed out that it's a right old mess.

I seem to remember in the back half of the last Parliamentary session, the Government introducing a Bill (now an Act) to establish the wonderfully named Independent Parliamentary Standard Authority (IPSA) to establish and regulate a new expenses regime. This Bill was despicably short, and was touted by the Government as a panacea solution to this awful problem.

I think we can say with some certainty that it isn't. It isn't even close.

I raised the problem of MP's expenses with my own MP - her own expenses, incidentally, were modest compared to some, but she is a Labour MP. I highlighted the fact that I was concerned about the apparent independence of IPSA, or particularly, it's lack of it. It reports to Parliament. It is set up by Parliament, to regulate Parliament, and reports to Parliament. Anyone spot a potential problem there?

The other major issue I have with it is that it has no method of enforcement for MPs, particularly with regard to discipline, which remains in the hands of the Standards and Privileges Committee, a component of - you guessed it - Parliament. The argument for this is that you shouldn't have an unelected body, i.e. IPSA, being able to force an elected representative from office. That power should reside only with others who are democratically elected, or ultimately, the electorate.

I suggested that IPSA should continue to maintain it's level of expertise from judges, accountants and ex-members of the House of Commons, but that it should also apply to the House of Lords and that an important component of it should be a citizens' jury, responsible for administering discipline to MPs and Lords alike when required.

My representations were passed onto the Ministry of Justice. They fobbed me off.

But, these issues aside, another one has reared its ugly head - the fact that they can't even seem to agree on what the expenses regime should be, let alone how to implement it.

Dear legislators, it's quite simple. Stop acting like benefit thieves. If the existing system is too open to abuse, scrap it. Pay all legislators a salary, like virtually everyone else who works for a living. No expenses, no allowances, nothing. If they need staff, staff should be employed by Parliament, and thus on Parliament's payroll. If they need a second home, provide basic but adequate accommodation (owned by the State) that they can use free of charge. No more duck houses. No more 'flipping' second homes. No more egg whisks. No more claiming for satellite TV.

This attitude of Parliamentary independence from the Monarch has served us well as we evolved from an autocracy to a democracy. But it is no longer appropriate. It is time, now, for an attitude of Parliamentary accountability to the People.

[UPDATE]

Guido has a lovely summary of which MPs are being forced to repay what. Plus some well-deserved vitriolic bile towards the thieving swine. He has cheerfully called it Porkbusters. It makes me laugh!

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