Friday, May 15, 2009

Who is responsible for approving MPs abusive expenses claims?

Amidst all this MPs abuse of privileges and expenses fiasco... one thing I cannot understand is... how did they get away with these abuses?

Over the last few days the Daily Telegraph has, quite rightly, exposed an amazing plethora of systemic abuse of expenses by many MPs. This has understandably caused a great deal of anger up and down the country, delivered a massive blow to voters' confidence in our political system and brought our Houses of Parliament into disrepute, all unprecedented, certainly in my lifetime.

The Telegraph and the media's focus, has up to now, largely been on individual MPs and the political parties reactions and handling of these events. However, what I cannot understand, and what I believe is a far more important question is... why were these MPs allowed to transgress the system in this way?

If, as we are led to believe (and the facts seem pretty clear) that many MPs have indeed broken the rules, (some even possibly having committed fraud) as stated in The Green Book (A Guide to Members Allowances), why were they allowed to do so?

The majority of MPs that have been 'fingered' by the Telegraph's exposes, have consistently said they believe their expense claim was 'within the rules'. Many are even alleging that they sought guidance before or during the process of their expense claim. If MPs put expenses claims in for approval, and these expenses have subsequently been seen to have broken the rules or been an abuse of privilege of the expenses system... who approved this? Who is ultimately responsible for this fiasco?

Whilst I think all MPs who have been shown to have abused the expenses system should take personal responsibility... and many are doing so... I think by far more important is for the system that allowed this to happen to also take responsibility. I am amazed that, as far as I can see, no one in the media is focusing on this much more important point... in any significant manner. All the peripheral debate surrounding this fiasco talks about how the system was developed, how we got to be here... how reform of the system has been too slow (no doubt about that) and how to put the system right as a matter of urgency... and of course, this is absolutely right that this should be done.

But... WHO is responsible for having approved the expenses of these MPs who are now having to apologise, resign... and even (rightly) facing the possibility of criminal charges brought against them... WHO approved these expenses??

As far as I can see, the Members Estimate Committee, which has the same membership as the House of Commons Commission considers matters relating to MPs’ pay and allowances on behalf of the House of Commons.

More directly concerned in this instance however, is The Committee on Members' Allowances. The role of the Committee on Members' Allowances is to advise the Members Estimate Committee on the exercise of its functions (which relate to charges on the Members Estimate).

The Committee advises the Speaker, the Members Estimate Committee and the Leader of the House on the potential development of the arrangements for Members’ allowances.

The Committee was nominated on 9 February 2009, and has eight members. Rt Hon Don Touhig MP was elected Chairman on 10 February 2009.

General information and the rules governing Members’ Salaries, Allowances and Pensions is published on the Parliament website. This includes the ‘Green Book’, which is the guide to Members' allowances, and 'Practice Notes', which provide more detailed information.

The work of actually approving and supervising MPs claims and expenses is carried out by The Department of Resources, which I believe is more commonly known as the 'Fees Office', is responsible to the Committee on Members' Allowances.

In my opinion, everyone involved in these committees and in the Department of Resources, the 'Fees Office', should seriously be considering their position. I also have to go back to my contention the other day, when I said the Speaker of the House of Commons should resign.

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, is ultimately responsible for these House Committees and for the department that has been supervising and approving these expenses claims and has been guiding (in may cases allegedly misguiding) MPs on their expenses claims.

In the light of the fiasco the abuse by MPs over their expenses has caused and for the gross inefficiency shown by the departments under his responsibility, I have to reiterate, to my mind, Speaker Martin has NO recourse... he too should take personal responsibilty for these shortcomngs... and has to go... he has to resign forthwith!

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2 comments:

TGRWorzel said...

Yes I agree.

The focus has so far been on MPs expenses and "the system", but somebody somewhere has also approved those expenses. Probably quite a few different people actually.

If as you say, ultimate responsibility rests with the Speaker he should now go. I'd seen that as a bit of sideshow that MP's were using to distract attention from themselves, but I'm persuaded now. It's a good posting.

Perhaps the most elegant and least controversial way of doing it would be to dissolve Parliament, whereupon the Speaker can be quietly dropped and replaced by somebody new. That approach wouldn't set a precedent for the House sacking the Speaker, which might be constitutionally problematical in the longer term.

The more I think about it, the more I think that dissolving Parliament is the right solution. Public has lost confidence in Parliament and Parliament has lost confidence in the Speaker. We've a situation which has gone beyond the Government collapsing. Parliament has collapsed and the country is more or less ungovernable at the moment.

Cybernest said...

The whole fiasco is extremely worrying... and I think... taking us to a 'Constitutional brink'!

I agree with you, to my mind, dissolving Parliament and calling a General Election is the only way to go. The Electorate would have the opportunity to clean out all the dross... and hopefully elect people who they can have confidence in.

However, before this happens, MPs (including prospective Candidates) expenses and allowances system must be reformed... and this won't happen immediately, so maybe the election we must have within the next 12 months... might be the only alternative and we'll best probably wait for that one!

Thanks for visiting today and for your comment! :)