Cash for Moats

There are a lot of red faces around the corridors of Westminster and despite the manure, paid for by the public purse, few have come up smelling of roses.  From plasma screens to pot plants, swimming pools to student flats, chandeliers to custard creams, MPs from all parties have been caught with their hands deep in the till.  Were they from the ranks of the unemployed they would be facing criminal charges for benefit fraud.  As it is, Members’ cheque books will be depleted as excessive expense claims are repaid and party leaders compete to demonstrate their desire to preside over a more responsible system.

So once the hair shirts have been dispensed with and the apologetic proclamations heard, what happens next?  Clearly the advice contained in the Green Book that states: “the MP’s signature [on the claim] verifies that the expenditure was wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties” is not properly understood or applied.  And therein lies the problem with principles-based regulation such as The Green Book: principles-based regulation without powerful, independent monitoring is like a football game without a referee.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life is undertaking a review of MPs expenses.  While none would wish to return to a system where only those of independent means can afford to be a member of Parliament, a system of effective monitoring, a culture of responsibility and total transparency are essential if public trust is to be restored.