Nadine Dorries: This is a witch hunt – the torture must end

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The Independent Online

No Prime Minister has ever had the political courage to award MPs a level of pay commensurate with their experience, qualifications and position, despite recommendations year after year from the Senior Salary Review Body.

Prior to my intake in 2005, MPs were sat down and told that the Additional Cost Allowance was an allowance, not expenses; it was the MPs' property, in lieu of pay; and the job of the Fees Office was to help them claim it. This was the system because every Prime Minister, including my heroine, dropped the political hot potato.

At a drinks party the other night, I put it to the YouGov founder Stephan Shakespeare that MPs prior to my intake had been told for many years that the ACA was in lieu of pay. "Yes, we have all known that," said Stephan. "The question is how do you move forward, what will be put in its place?"

When Stephan said "we all", what he meant was the political and media establishment. The BBC knew it. Every journalist knew it. The Today programme presenter who interviewed me knew it; and Martin Bell probably knew it because he was given the rule book when he became an MP 12 years ago.

If MPs prior to 2005 were sat down and told, "This is your pot, sat on a shelf in the Fees Office, and our job is to make sure you have it as it's part of your salary because no one here since the time of Cromwell has had the guts to address MPs' remuneration", you can't blame the older MPs for not giving due diligence to what it was spent on. The system was an utter disgrace, but it was the system.

The Telegraph's technique of picking off a few MPs each day, emailing at noon, giving five hours to reply, recording the conversation, not allowing them to speak, telling them they are going to publish anyway, amounts, at day 15, to a form of torture and may have serious consequences. No can deny the right to expose this, but any decent human being can question pushing individuals to the brink of despair.

The Telegraph conflates serious acts of fraud with the mildly embarrassing and plain administrative errors. No MP will escape the inquisition. All MPs wait with knots in their stomach every day. A sense of relief washes over when it's not you with the fatal midday email. But then comes sickness, as the next 24-hour wait begins.

MPs are human beings. They have families. Mums married to MPs must still go to the supermarket or school gate, often with the husband hundreds of miles away. Their children are scared. McCarthyite witch hunts belong to the past. As do archaic, cowardly methods of pay.

If MPs are judged wanting, so are those who knew the system was in place, including the Telegraph journalists.

Nadine Dorries is Conservative MP for Mid-Bedfordshire