The Sun’s recent discovery that Harriet Harman interfered in the Legg Inquiry comes as no real surprise- her initial attempt to prevent the disclosure of MPs’ expenses by making them exempt from the Freedom of Information Act in January last year showed her true opinion on the subject. However, the most troubling part of the news is that her interference was because she didn’t believe it was appropriate to cover claims which were rejected by the Fees Office. Surely nothing could be more appropriate of Sir Thomas Legg than to investigate the most ridiculous claims made by members of Parliament. That was, after all, the point of the inquiry in the first place.
Harman argues that, as rejected claims did not receive taxpayers’ money, they should not be included in the report. The minutes of a meeting on the subject, as obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, record Ms. Harman as saying “the main issue should be payback of those items claimed wrongly.”
Well, no, it shouldn’t be. She talks about “those items claimed wrongly.” That is what Sir Thomas Legg was attempting- to investigate all wrongly-made claims. The paying back of public money is of course the first priority for the inquiry, but the second should surely be the investigation of those people governing our country. In the interests of transparency, therefore, it should be disclosed just what our MPs think they can claim for, instead of what the Fees Office cannot prevent. It’s an inquiry about the MPs, not simply the Fees Office.
Despite this, the final report made by Sir Thomas Legg did not mention any rejected claims that were made by MPs- even though he announced at that same meeting his intention to do so. A spokesperson for Ms Harman said that “[Harriet Harman] fully supports the review of past expenses to ensure that any sums overclaimed are identified and paid back.” Meaning that she does not support the review of past expenses claims to ensure that the people governing our country are able to be trusted. It seems that our Parliament has learned nothing from the expenses scandal, but still expects us to blindly trust its members- even now, when we have less and less reason to do so. The Legg Inquiry was supposed to be proof for the public that MPs were willing to offer them transparency on expenses. With the relentless opposition, persistent criticism, and now political pressure directed at the inquiry, it appears that some are in no way willing to do so. Our MPs must do better to accomplish the promised transparency and to regain our trust.