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How do you fix MPs’ expenses conduct? Give them more control over it.

8 April 2014

It’s not often I would, in the fashion of the late Tony Benn, pass lightly over the personalities in a row in favour of discussing what he liked to call the ‘ishyoos’ but in the case of Maria Miller, it might do no harm. It does rather look, as Isabel Hardman has already intimated, that she’s toast, but the answer to the Problem of Maria is, I would say, pretty well the opposite of what we’re all told. Which is, as Labour MP John Mann (he whose formal complaint about Mrs Miller prompted the original investigation) put it in an urgent question, that MPs should not regulate their own expenses conduct.

The answer, rather, is to give them rather more control over it.

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We’re often told that the public is far too immature to accept the notion of paying MPs properly; we loathe them too much. But not, I reckon, if we were given to understand that it were an economy measure. Consider the notion of paying MPs a whole lot more: between £80,000 and £100,000 a year, perhaps more, depending solely on their distance from Westminster. And at the same time doing away with their expenses: staff, accommodation, envelopes, travel, the lot. It would, then, be entirely up to them how they paid for their bed and breakfast; they could live with their aged parents without it being our business; they could employ their mothers as their secretaries; travel first class if they felt like it – though somehow, I fancy, that if it were their own money, they’d be a bit more niggardly with it. Those in commuting distance of Westminster would be paid less on account of not needing a second home.

The economy bit could come from doing away with the entire apparatus of supervision and approval that we have at the moment. There wouldn’t be a need for scrutiny of the system for the simple and sufficient reason that there wouldn’t be a system to fiddle. It would be less cumbersome, less embarrassing for us and for them and cheaper. I think we’d be mature enough for that.

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  • sfin

    “How do you fix MPs’ expenses conduct? Give them more control over it.”

    I can’t believe I’m reading this!…

    …There is a very simple way of fixing MPs’ expenses conduct and that is to make the penalty for abuse the same as that for…oh I don’t know…a member of the armed forces, say.

    If a member of the armed forces had a abused his expenses system, by even a fraction of what some of our public representatives have done, the penalty would normally be very familiar:

    Stripped of rank and all pension rights accrued – regardless of seniority and length of time served.
    6 months at her majesty’s pleasure in a military prison.
    Dishonourable discharge from his service.

    I know of many cases of soldiers not bothering to fill in claims (normally for travel and accommodation) for fear of getting their sums wrong.

    Are we really saying that some MPs steal from the public because they don’t think that they’re paid enough – so we should give them more? So the penalty now for breaking the law is to reward it?

    Like I said – I can’t believe I’m reading this!

  • dado_trunking

    Repeat assertions this was resolved.
    Repeat continued failure.
    I am beginning to think we ought to get a foreigner in to sort this lot out. You know, Gov Carney or Special One Mourinho, Ottolenghi to cook summat up – someone like that . . .

    • the viceroy’s gin

      …how about one of your Brussels gauleiters?

  • edward

    This is similar to what the IPSA proposed but it was presented as a pay rise and therefore rejected. (MPs would have received less money overall).

  • saffrin

    Maybe Cameron should contract Atos to monitor Parliamentarians expenses.

    A4 paper, privatised Royal Mail stamps and biro refills should do it.

  • Tom Tom

    MPs should not have expenses. They should be subject to HMRC audit on all their earnings, but no expenses. Staff should be paid directly from the House of Commons with proper pension arrangements; and there should be an accommodation block/hotel for living quarters for MPs living >90 minutes travel time from London

    • Alexsandr

      and expenses should be in line with any other employed person. as operated by the HR dept of thousands of companies across the land.

  • Sweary Expat

    It’s easier than that. Just publish the rules, and publish the receipts, in full and un redacted. The press will do the rest, for free.

    • Martin Adamson

      It’s even easier than that. Abolish all the rules. Place no restrictions. Give every MP 100% of what they ask for. Except, as you say, every single payment goes onto a spreadsheet published on the web for your constituents to see. Let them be the judge.

  • Smithersjones2013

    Its difficult to know where to begin in critiquing this piece of bimbonic flatulence. In fact the idiocy of it is such it is really not worth any serious consideration.

    Put simply we are at this point simply because politicians have abused their positions time and time again (something McDonagh conveniently forgets to mention) and the very last thing that should be countenanced is MPs further being allowed to line their own pockets and fleece the taxpayer in doing so.

    That in future MPs remuneration will be linked to average earnings is solution enough. The more we earn the more they earn. Maybe that will focus them more on the plight of the nation and less on their own self interest?

  • Rhoda Klapp8

    And who prompted you to write this farrago of wishful thinking? Make the rules clear, make them the same as the rest of us have to follow, give MPs the same tax treatment as everybody else, and FIRE offenders without hesitation. No pay rises until they can behave and earn it by getting rid of those foreign folks who set most of our laws.

    • Samuel Johnson

      Who would fire these MPs? Whoever does becomes sovereign over Parliament, which should be the highest court and authority in the land. That is the problem with Maria in the first place, to which Melanie McDonagh offers an elegant solution.

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