Further to our complaint to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner back in February, it has today been confirmed that Michael Martin is to be investigated over expenses claimed by his wife for taxi trips to the supermarket. You can read the full letter from the Commissioner here:
We welcome the enquiry, as it shows the Commons authorities are taking the issue of MPs' expenses seriously. Some people have been guilty in the past of dismissing the public's concern over this issue as being either passing, inevitable or media-stoked. It is none of these, rather it is a genuine and serious worry for people firstly that their money may be being wasted or abused at all but especially that such things might be going on in Parliament, the hub of the British State. If anyone has abused taxpayers' generosity, they deserve to be exposed and punished. People work very hard to make ends meet, and tax adds a severe burden to the lives of many people. This means those on the taxpayers' payroll are duty bound to take care of every single penny.
The question of openness and accountability is central to this and other recent controversies over expenses and their possible abuse. None of this - the Derek Conway scandal, the John Lewis list revelation or the new enquiry into the Speaker - would have come about had we had a culture of transparency in place. We believe that all MPs expenses, down to the receipts for tea and biscuits, should be published on the internet for all to see. After all, it is our Parliament, they are our MPs and it is our money, so we as taxpayers should have the right to know how it is all spent.
The fact that the Speaker has overseen the spending of tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees so far to try to keep MPs' expenses secret, that he has just launched a High Court appeal in a last ditch attempt to keep us all in the dark and most importantly that he is chairing the enquiry into MPs' expenses, makes the Standards' Commissioner's enquiry particularly important.
Mr Martin quite clearly should not be the person in charge of reviewing MPs' expenses at a time when he is doing everything within his power - all paid for by you and me - to keep those expenses secret. He certainly should not be charged with a review that is meant to be about restoring a the Commons' reputation for probity at a time when he is himself under investigation.
I don't know whether Mr or Mrs Martin have broken the rules or not - that is something for the Commissioner to investigate and decide. In the meantime, the Speaker must remove himself from any involvement in the MPs' expenses system immediately if that process is to retain any credibility at all. If, ultimately, guilt were to be established in this or any other similar case, we at the TaxPayers' Alliance hope that any punishment would be strong and swift. We were very outspoken earlier this year in calling for proper punishment when Derek Conway was found guilty of abusing staffing allowances, and he was swiftly punished by Parliament and disowned by his Party. We trust that any other MP abusing the allowances system would be punished at least as severely.
In the longer term, people need more than simply individual enquiries when allegations happen to surface. Taxpayers have fundamentally lost faith in Westminster and recent opinion polls show that while MPs' expenses remain secret, the populace will continue to assume many or even most are corrupt. That probably isn't the case, but if Parliamentarians want to clear their collective name, dispel any suspicions and prove that our money is being well spent, the only way to do it is to throw open the shutters and publish all of their expenses for all of us to see.