Speaking for Parliament should mean speaking for the nation as well

Yesterday the Speaker’s remarks triggered another wave of bad press for Parliament. Last night there was a meeting to discuss what to do next about MPs’ expenses. I would like the Speaker to give us another Statement, based on whatever took place at that private meeting for a few MPs on the relevant committee. Ideally he would say:

” I am conscious that Parliament’s standing has fallen badly. I recognise that many in the House and many more outside wishes to see us rebuild the stature of our democratic institution.

“Last night we began that task. Immediate measures will be taken to tighten the audit and control over MPs’ expenses, to ensure that MPs only claim what is necessarily incurred to carry out their Parliamentary duties. I would ask members to ensure that in their own interests they only claim items which sensible constituents will think reasonable. We all need to realise that the public in this period of economic difficulty will expect us to be more cautious than in the past about what we can claim. It is not fair to seek to pressurise the arbitration of junior officials in the Fees office in substitution for a member’s own judgement of what is right and defensible. We will await the Kelly Report later this year before determining on a major reform of the system, designed to lower its cost and to increase the transparency of the whole process.

“The public are not convinced that this Parliament is doing a good job or providing value for the large sums spent on it. We need not only to control our costs, but to be more successful at examining the conduct of public administration. We need to demonstrate that the scrutiny we provide to legislation is sufficient and produces better law. With that in mind I am holding talks with representatives of the government to see how we can ensure that major changes of government policy are always announced first to this House in oral Statements and that less important matters are always reported in writing in a timely way. I will ask how we can manage the timetable more effectively to give Parliament the time it needs for the important issues and for the most contentious items.

“I will point out to the government that this is Parliament’s wish, as many Labour backbenchers join with memebrs of other parties in wanting Parliament to have a proper chance to consider the government’s measures and actions. I will remind Ministers that they too,as Parliamentarians, should want that. Government Ministers will be given plenty of time to set out their case, so they should have nothing to fear from such changes. Government Ministers should remember they too, one day will return to being backbenchers.

“I have asked the police not to continue investigation of any leak of the expense details to media outlets who observe the need to avoid publication of sensitive information affecting members’ security. “

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23 Comments

  1. Julian Gall
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 6:41 am | Permalink

    The system for MP’s expenses doesn’t need to be complicated. It just needs two rules:

    a) Every expense claim must be submitted with a specific justification and a receipt.
    b) Every justification and receipt will be published online at the time the expense is reinbursed.

    There will be enough constituents and journalists to police the process free of charge.

    • Robert, Oxford
      Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      You’re right, it’s all to do with transparency. The absolute amount (£24,000) is not so much the issue as whether the expenditure is reasonable. The MPs with the most egregious claims are bound to lose out in electoral terms.

    • Sir Graphus
      Posted May 12, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Furthermore, MPs should be subject to the same definition of a “benefit in kind” as their constituents and the same treatment by HMRC.

      As some wise blogger commented; it doesn’t need an expensive and sophisticated auditing process; MPs should submit a P11D like other company directors.

  2. APL
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:15 am | Permalink

    JR: “Last night we began that task. Immediate measures will be taken to tighten the audit and control over MPs’ expenses ..”

    I rather think we need to see some of the worst offenders prosecuted.

  3. alan jutson
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    John
    You have got about as much chance of getting (the present Speaker -ed) to say the above, as you have of Gordon Brown resigning.
    (words left out)
    The Speaker should be the upholder of Parliamentary principles.
    He or she should oversee that all members behave in a proper and businesslike manner.

    This Speaker has (lowered-ed) the Office with his own expenses claims, his refusal to get Ministers to answer questions, any questions, and the arrogance of his position.

    I listened to his speech on the expenses issue whilst driving back from the Equitable life AGM.

    What a contrast

    Here we had the very man who has worked the system to the limits, lecturing Members of Parliament (not all guilty of expenses abuse) about the priciples and the spirit of the system, with not a word of apology, but an anger that he had been found out.

    If you were there it must have made your guts turn.

    I have said so before, and say so again, get this man out of Parliament(etc).

  4. Robert, Oxford
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    Publish all their expenses and call an election.

  5. alan jutson
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Yes seen it in the Press this morning too.

    Perhaps they (France and Germany) are worried that DC is going to spoil the party, the cosy little arrangement, (which is a huge cost) which is known as the EU.

    £40 million a day we are told by UKIP is the cost to UK PLC

    And for that we get told what to do ?????

    I think not.

    It has to change and change fast, the idea of belonging to a Club, any Club is that ALL members pay the same dues and get the same benefits under the same rules.
    If you cannot afford the subscription, then do not join the club.
    Most Clubs have an AGM where rule changes are voted upon, and the accounts are published.
    This Club seems to have no such arrangements.
    No votes (by the real members) the population.
    No accounts for the last is it 12 or 13 years.
    Another expense gravy train for officials.
    The moving of head office every 6 months.
    An increase in Members (Countries) that cannot afford the entry fee.
    Rule/Law changes which override democratically elected Politicians in their own Country’s.
    Subsidies for those within and protectionist policies against anyone outside who wishes to trade.
    No wonder people are frustrated.
    It needs a complete re-think, I think.

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:50 am | Permalink

      Sorry John on wrong BLog
      So wound up on both subjects, can you transfer ????.
      thanks

  6. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    I was going to say “and pigs might fly” but under the current circumstances perhaps it isn’t quite appropriate! I suggest that you support your colleague Douglas Carswell’s motion to remove Mr Martin.

  7. mikestallard
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    No.
    It has gone beyond that.
    Look, we never get to speak in parliament, so let me tell you the truth.
    We know all about the Speaker’s (conduct-ed). How his wife accompanies him on his little jaunts. How he is beastly to his staff. How he got the post in the first place. How he has made a venerable office (remember dignified and, yes, witty, Betty Boothroyd?) into a (government?-ed) rubber stamp while the House of Commons has sunk lower than anyone currently alive can remember. (How about going back to, say, Henry VIII? Robert Walpole did at least run the emerging British Empire.)
    As for the Speaker of the House of Commons, or one of his ……. minions, rubber stamping the sacking of a Conservative MP’s house and terrifying his teenage daughter? Words fail me.
    Like his masters, he ought to go.

    I want to say at this point that I am sure our host will disagree with this. It is not in parliamentary language, for a start. Also it is most certainly not the view of the Conservative party.

    • alan jutson
      Posted May 13, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

      Mike
      See yours was as heavily moderated as was mine.
      But this Speaker does make your blood boil.

      Reply: I try to follow a policy of removing unplesant adjectives or any suggestion that anyone is corrupt, mentally ill or other wise personally objectionable for legal reasons.It is possible to make a strong case against a Minister or other senior official without personal abuse.

      • alan jutson
        Posted May 13, 2009 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

        Agreed, I stand admonished.
        Rest assured, not a complaint about your moderation John.
        Just an observation to another blogger that you were busy that day, such was the content of more than one blog on this subject. and clearly some feelings were running high.

  8. Simon D
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    I worked in the private sector for a FTSE company. Expenses were never a problem. You put in a claim + receipts. Your manager verified the claim. The rules stated clearly what was allowed and what was not. You knew that if you tried to fiddle expenses it would be gross misconduct and you would be fired.

    What we need with MPs is something similar. They don’t have line managers so you need a properly independent body to verify the claims. Public accountability also requires that the claims should, once allowed, be open to public inspection.

    Two points to note: (1) the expenses money comes from the pockets of taxpayers and (2) the Speaker should be kept out of it.

    It is significant that this Parliament has the worst Speaker within living memory.

  9. Gareth
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    A requirement to publish the claims and reasoning *when they are submitted* would both clamp down on specious expenses being incurred and stop the ‘it’s kosher because I got paid’ excuses.

    If the Fees Office was overloaded with last minute claims and some unsuitable items slipped through unchecked MPs could still, as we have seen recently, try and bluff their way out of trouble by saying they got paid so it must be within the rules.

    If my bank puts money into my account by mistake it isn’t mine and I would be stupid to go out and spend it.

    If HMRC gives me a tax repayment by mistake they would ask for it back.

    I think MPs could also quickly get a bit of support from the public if enough of them grasped the nettle and petitioned for the Additional Cost of Living Allowance to no longer be tax free. It should never have been in the first place.

  10. Disillusioned
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    John, I hope you are going to support the moves to get rid of this inept speaker. It’s time for decent, hardworking MPs to do the right thing.

  11. Brigham
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    The gall of this (words left out) man is unbelievable. It was the Speaker’s …. extravagances that started the whole thing off. I doubt if the expenses furore would have come about if it wasn’t for his …… behaviour during the Damian Green affair and all his foreign trips at the taxpayers expense. I see one MP has the courage to try to do something about it. “It is within the rules. The system is wrong. It’s the right thing to do. Lessons will be learned.” All these creeps say it. Don’t they understand we, the public, do not trust them anymore. It will take decades before MP’s can be believed again.

  12. revinkevin
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    What needs to happen with MPs expenses is full disclosure in an open format, with sensitive information removed even rejected claims.

    As an MP you will like you said if you only claim items which sensible constituents will think reasonable and if not the MP concerned must answer to his or hers constituents.

  13. figurewizard
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    I watched the speaker’s angry response to Kate Hoey’s perfectly reasonable suggestions on last night’s news with dismay. He seemed more concerned with the fact that the press have been afforded the freedom to reveal the truth about some MPs abusing their expense accounts than the abuses themselves. I am beginning to wonder what it is that he really is afraid of.

  14. Deborah
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Some hope, the current Speaker will never make that speech.
    And he will not leave his post voluntarily – he will have to be removed.
    The Speaker has torn up all the protocols which maintained the integrity of parliament for generations yet relies on the one which says MPs should not call for his removal. It is time to do away with this hypocrisy.

    Confucious said
    To see what is right and not to do it is want of courage.

    We will soon see which MPs can tell right from wrong and have the courage to follow their conscience. I do hope you will support Douglas Carswell MP on this.

  15. Michael Booth
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    Mr Redwood,

    Would you be prepared to join in with a Parliamentary call for the Speaker to resign? The nation I’m sure would be grateful – I know I would.

  16. Rob N
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    I think all the comments above are correct in what they are asking for, however I think to restore confidence in the political system and to give the party an easy victory at the next election they should be doing the following:

    Have an independent public panel assess each of the MP’s claims on that party.

    If a claim is found to be outside of public duties as assessed by the panel then the MP in question should be asked to pay it back (on friendly terms).

    If the MP in question can not pay it back then they should step down.

    This will ba a painfull process, but in my mind would restore the meaning behind what HOUSE OF COMMONS member is supposed to be.

  17. pipesmoker
    Posted May 12, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    I agree with the last comment, kick Gorbals Mick out and appoint someone capable of doing the job.

    I believe that only Parliament can decide on the remuneration and expenses of M.P’s, it is a sovereign body, I don’t see how the responsibility can be carried out elsewhere? Before that a General Election is needed, will the turkeys vote for Christmas, I think not!

  18. invester
    Posted June 3, 2009 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    Great, thanks! ^_^

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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