Mar 2009 04

In the news today is the judgement by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner that Caroline Spelman did wrongly, if unintentionally claim the salary of her nanny on her Parliamentary allowances. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the last case of an MP abusing taxpayers' money – the general opinion doing the rounds in Westminster is that once MPs' expenses are published in full there may well be more investigations getting underway.

Given that, and given that apparently Derek Conway has still not repaid the full amount he was ordered to after last year's controversy, isn't it time the Commissioner produced a standard set of firm rules about repayment terms and timescales?

Caroline Spelman's offence took place ten years ago, and yet the order to repay £9,600 does not seem to take inflation into account, meaning that taxpayers will miss out on several thousand pounds. Conway is paying his off bit by bit through deductions from his paypacket over the course of at least a year, despite reports that he has since the judgement made a healthy profit from selling property.

Another odd inconsistency is this: if you owe the taxman money you get charged interest, but this does not seem to apply to MPs who owe money to taxpayers. Why the double standard?

Mark is a writer and political campaigner, ardent libertarian and eurosceptic.

  • Graeme Pirie

    I find it utterly disgusting the way that we, the taxpayers are treated over expenses.
    “Yes I fiddled the system but I didn’t mean to” seems to be their get out of jail free card.
    No party seems at all interested in cleaning this up, I hear no action is to be taken in this case – I wonder if a “quid pro quo” has been made in return for silence over Jacqui Smiths theft? Although no doubt by the time they spend the 5 minutes necessary to look at her movement records a year will have passed.
    What are we meant to think other than that the whole lot of them are corrupt?
    I think you’re right – the complete expenses list is going to show us just how widespread this is (if of course they ever obey the law and publish it).
    As far as I’m concerned I’m afraid the “court of public opinion” would say that we’re better off without corrupt politicians – even if it means there are 600 empty seats in Westminster.
    At least Goodwin took his pot of silver by negotiation, not stolen under the cover of “abiding by the rules”…

  • Peter Edwards

    The type of behaviour detailed in the article above profoundly worries me. Actually I don’t know what causes more concern; The idea that an elected individual should “accidentally” commit a criminal act of fraud or that no criminal ramifications come of this “accident”
    This is the first I’ve heard that the law recognises ignorance/incompetence/stupidity as a defence. Now, given that we live in an equal society I should be at liberty to hold up my local bank and if caught I can say “Sorry, didn’t know I was doing anything wrong, I pay the money back over the next 20 or so years.”
    So my over zealous thrust of argument is that not only do these activities suggest that we are governed by incompetent individuals but we live in a society where the politically powerful are excluded from obeying the very laws that our society is predicated upon.

  • Trevor

    The difference between Wormwood Scrubs and the Houses of parliament-some people in Wormwood scrubs have been wrongly convicted of being criminals!
    No confidence in any of them, They just fiddle expenses because of ill-defined rules. They will not stick to a moral code. How can you reasonable claim that your main home is a room in your sisters’ house?

  • Brian Smith

    You mention the penalties the Inland Revenue charges for late payment of tax; you need to have a look at the Draconian charges the Customs and Excise levy for late payment of VAT.
    Over and above the lack of penalties, the “I’ve been caught, I’ll repay what I stole, OK?” attitude needs to be addressed. No criminal I’ve ever heard of was simply allowed to make a payment in restitution for their theft in exchange for no further action.
    And sometimes, as in cases like the David Blunkett “I need to see my mistress” scam, where there is a pattern of continuing and repeated offending, we have to accept some token part-payment of the monies that were misappropriated, with no following further action.
    We get more and more like Italy every day; we’ve even got their economy now.