Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cleaning up the UK Parliament

For the past year the UK Parliament has been in the grip of a massive expenses scandal, as a series of leaks and then a formal Freedom of Information Act release exposed widespread and shameless corruption by MPs in the abuse of parliamentary expenses. The revelation of overclaiming, "flipping", tax evasion, and moat-cleaning has already forced the retirement of more than a hundred MPs, including the Speaker (and good riddance to him), and may claim more. It has also forced reform. Chair of the committee on standards in public life Christopher Kelly published his recommendations for reform of the expenses system today. These include:

  • Ending the practice of MPs engaging in property speculation at public expense, by no longer paying mortgage interest and requiring any capital gain in a property funded in this manner to be surrendered to the crown;
  • A shift to providing MPs with rental accommodation, sourced transparently from a commercial provider;
  • No accommodation expenses for MPs living within a "reasonable" distance of Parliament;
  • A ban on employing family members;
  • An end to the traditional "golden handshake" for MPs who voluntarily resign;
  • A ban on MPs simultaneously sitting in devolved parliaments;
  • A register of interests, to be published by all candidates standing for election.

The recommendations have been accepted by all party leaders, but backbenchers and even some senior MPs are mutinous. But its either this or the torch-wielding mob. Which do they prefer?

Meanwhile, the first of those recommendations is something we should adopt here. I am happy to pay for MPs to live in Wellington while Parliament is in session. But we should not be providing them with taxpayer-funded capital gains to supplement their Parliamentary salaries. But the chances of MPs voting to accept that limit is about zero, and the government is moving in exactly the opposite direction. As I said, they earn their reputation.