Thursday, May 28, 2009

fees office at westminster

Much has been written about MPs’ expenses over recent weeks and reference made to the “green book” of rules. It seems that MPs have been lining up to express either their complete innocence (“I’ve done nothing wrong”) or to apologise for some error they’ve “just discovered”. It seems abundantly clear to everyone that the rules on MPs’ expenses need urgent reform. Even MPs themselves suddenly seem to be acknowledging this – but in an almost laughable, naughty schoolboy kind of way (“yes, I’ve always thought it was wrong and, funnily enough, I was going to raise it in Parliament as a matter of some urgency” as it were!). How many of us knew until recently, for example, that MPs can claim expenses of £250 without a receipt? And, if that wasn’t enough, we later learnt – to our utter incredulity – that MPs can, apparently, also claim £400 a month for food without receipts!
Brilliant! Clearly, something needs to be done.
However, what has also struck me is that we seem to have heard absolutely nothing about or from the “House of Commons’ Fees Office” during this debate.
These are the people who apparently “interpret” the rules. Amongst other things, they seem to have allowed claims for “servant’s quarters”, for clearing a moat, for mortgages that were already paid off, for claiming on second homes that were 100 miles from Westminster, for dry rot repairs to an MP’s partner’s house in Southampton etc etc.
Actually, if I were on this committee, I think I’d be keeping my head down too!
PS: The Committee on Standards in Public Life is currently conducting an inquiry into MPs' Expenses. I notice from its website that the committee has decided to set out the principles that “apply to all aspects of public life…. for the benefit of all who serve the public in any way”.
I think they make interesting reading!
Holders of public office should act solely in terms of the public interest. They should not do so in order to gain financial or other material benefits for themselves, their family, or their friends.
Holders of public office should not place themselves under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence them in the performance of their official duties.
In carrying out public business, including making public appointments, awarding contracts, or recommending individuals for rewards and benefits, holders of public office should make choices on merit.
Holders of public office are accountable for their decisions and actions to the public and must submit themselves to whatever scrutiny is appropriate to their office.
Holders of public office should be as open as possible about all the decisions and actions that they take. They should give reasons for their decisions and restrict information only when the wider public interest clearly demands.
Holders of public office have a duty to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve any conflicts arising in a way that protects the public interest.
Holders of public office should promote and support these principles by leadership and example.

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