An MPs job is unique in that they have two places of work, Westminster and their constituency. So most of them need two homes and to travel between them a lot. In addition they usually need to employ staff to handle the huge workload generated by their constituents and to do the research on issues necessary to keep our democracy vibrant. So they need a very comprehensive expenses system to pay them back for all the money they have to spend in doing their job.
There have been two recent expenses systems for doing this and it is incredibly important to understand the difference. The generous old system which ran up to 2009 and the very strict system that has run ever since.
It is a fact that our MPs are very badly paid for the level of person needed to do the job and the huge hours and commitment that the job takes. MPs live and breathe their work and tend to be either working or sleeping, yet they get paid half what a good GP or headmaster gets. I have written this article about MP pay.
MPs pay has been kept down artificially for political reasons. Every time they get a pay rise everybody complains. All the media have a huge and unjustified whinge. So the old expenses system was deliberately over generous to compensate. It was a way of giving MPs the money they deserved without the press indulging in small minded attacks. We got into this situation because of our national epidemic of socialist envy. It is not politically correct to succeed in this country.
Unfortunately some MPs took it too far and abused the old system. They got greedy. For instance Ed Balls flipped his second home three times in two years and made dodgy expenses claims for it. This made him very rich indeed at the expense of the taxpayer. Then the Telegraph found out what was going on and there was a huge scandal. Every MP was thoroughly investigated and only 6 out of 650 were found to have committed criminal fraud in order to enrich themselves. They were:
- Elliot Morley (Labour). Claimed parliamentary expenses for a mortgage that had already been repaid. Morley was duly prosecuted and on 7 April 2011 pleaded guilty in the Crown Court at Southwark to two counts of false accounting, involving over £30,000. On 20 May 2011, he was sentenced to 16 months’ imprisonment.
- David Chaytor (Labour). Claimed nearly £13,000 in mortgage expenses on a home on which the mortgage had already been paid. On 3 December 2010 he pleaded guilty to charges of false accounting and he was sentenced to 18 months’ imprisonment on 7 January 2011.
- Jim Devine (Labour). Submitted expense claims for a company that never existed. Prosecuted under the Theft Act 1968. On 10 February 2011 he was found guilty on two counts of false accounting (relating to false claims for a total of £8,385). On 31 March 2011 Devine was sentenced to 16 months imprisonment.
- Eric Illsley (Labour). Claimed over £10,000 for council tax in four years although he was charged £3,966 for his Band C property in Lambeth, south London, in this period. He regularly submitted claims for £200 a month, which meant that he did not have to submit receipts.On 19 May 2010, Illsley was charged with three counts of false accounting. On 11 January 2011, he pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court. He was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment on 10 February 2011.
- Margaret Moran (Labour). Moran’s (Luton South) claims for expenses 2004–05 were £73,198 higher than Luton North MP Kelvin Hopkins. On 6 September 2011 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced that Moran would face 21 criminal charges, 15 of false accounting and six charges of forgery. In April 2012, after receiving evidence from a number of psychiatrists, the judge determined that Moran was not fit to plead. On 13 November 2012 a jury found she had committed the acts alleged. In December 2012, she was sentenced to a two-year supervision and treatment order, the judge commenting that although some might feel she had “got away with it”, the court had acted “in accordance with the law of the land and on the basis of the evidence that it hears.”
- Denis MacShane (Labour). Submitted 19 false invoices “plainly intended to deceive” the parliamentary expenses authority. On 11 July 2013 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that MacShane would be charged with false accounting under the Theft Act 1968, involving the creation of £12,900 of fake receipts. On 18 November 2013 he pleaded guilty to false accounting at the Old Bailey, and on 23 December 2013 was jailed for six months.
In addition there were the forced resignation of the following Labour ministers:
- Jacqui Smith announced that she would step down as Home Secretary after the European elections, but would contest her seat at the next election. Lost her seat at the subsequent general election.
- Hazel Blears announced on 3 June that she would step down as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
- Tony McNulty resigned from his position as Minister for Employment during the cabinet reshuffle on 5 June 2009. Lost his seat at the subsequent general election.
- Geoff Hoon left his position as Secretary of State for Transport during the cabinet reshuffle on 5 June 2009, in order for him to spend more time on European and international issues with him being considered a possible candidate as the next British member of the European Commission. Did not stand at the 2010 election.
- Kitty Ussher resigned as Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury on 17 June, after only 8 days in the position, following details of avoiding capital gains tax being published. Did not stand at the 2010 election.
As a result of all the above, on 20 May 2009, the creation was announced of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), intended to manage Members’ expenses at an “arm’s length” from the House, ending the historical self-policing by MPs of their expenses. IPSA is responsible for: setting the level of and paying MPs’ annual salaries, drawing up, reviewing, and administering the MPs’ allowances scheme, providing MPs with publicly available information relating to taxation issues, preparing the MPs’ code of conduct relating to financial interests and determining the procedures for investigations. It is all powerful.
The new expenses system is very strict, some say excessively so. It is also amazingly transparent. Every penny claimed in expenses can now be seen by everyone on earth! All you have to do is click this link. Once again, though, we face press stupidity, they complain when an MP claims 10p or 20p for a valid expenses item. Missing the fact that the pennies mount up and that the MP would be out of pocket if they didn’t claim back what they had spent in doing their job.