“Payment of Members of Parliament”, claimed Lloyd George “is not a recognition of the magnitude of their service” but it is “to enable men to come here [Parliament],” for those “who cannot be here because their means do not allow it.” How then would he have reacted to the MPs’ expenses scandal almost a hundred years after his speech to the house? Shocked? Angered? Surprised that the progressive ideas he supported all those years ago had been besmirched by the great expenses scandal?
The last six months of MPs’ 2009 accounts were published yesterday, and it seems they now get by on some £2 million less on hotels, rent and mortgage interest bills. A good start? Perhaps, but their new regulatory body IPSA still leaves a lot to be desired as far as transparency is concerned.
A quick look over the most recently published claims shows a lack of detail. Take Labour Leadership Candidate Diane Abbott, who claimed £192.60 on one taxi fare - there is no explanation for the claim on the website. There is adequate public transport cover from Westminster to her constituency in Hackney and Stoke Newington; why couldn’t she get a bus like the rest of us? On top of this the publication of receipts relating to the claims has been delayed – apparently due to "technical issues".
Members spent over £350,000 on Advertising and Communications, with many legitimately advertising surgery dates, but many also printed self-promotional literature. Each month Lembick Öpik had 25,000 leaflets produced at the cost of £1198.00 for his constituents to tell them how he was doing – obviously the people of Montgomeryshire didn’t think too much of what he had been up to.
It is still the small things that will really make the taxpayer wince. Why is it necessary for an MP earning a huge salary to claim for a 26” Samsung television (Andrew Reed, ex-MP for Loughborough)? David Lidington (Aylesbury) claimed for a ‘Blackberry case’, which seems a little gratuitous, and the First Minster of Scotland, Alex Salmond, claimed an £84.51 ‘travel bag’. With MPs’ salaries two and half times the average salary of £26,000 - or the income tax contribution of ten average taxpayers - it seems outrageous that members like Hywel Francis (Aberavon) are claiming for things like a ‘free-to-view digibox’!
Only greater transparency and pressure from the public will realise Lloyd George’s original aspiration of anyone being able to stand and serve the people that elected them, that’s why we will keep campaigning.
By Nick Galvin