Leading article: Public money for private pleasures

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The tale of Jacqui Smith's husband and the expenses claim for a couple of "adult" films contains enough material to keep satirists in gags for the foreseeable future.

But rather than dwelling on the embarrassment of the Home Secretary we ought to concentrate on the fundamental wrong that has been committed here. It is not the viewing habits of Ms Smith's husband, unsavoury though some might find them, at issue. The real problem lies in the fact that MPs appear to expect taxpayers to pick up the bill for their home entertainment.

No one in the Commons department responsible for processing expenses checked whether Ms Smith's Virgin Media bill was related to her duties as an MP before signing them off. And Ms Smith plainly did not bother to check what she was claiming for. It seems reasonable to wonder how many other MPs are claiming public subsidy for their private entertainment?

This story is further confirmation that the system of MPs' expenses requires a fundamental overhaul. Most reasonable people accept that MPs need to be able claim for the travel they undertake in their public duties and to pay the salaries of their secretaries. Most people also accept that MPs with constituencies outside London need to be given an allowance to live in the capital, at least when Parliament is sitting.

But the second-home allowance and the broader expenses system has been grotesquely abused by the present generation of MPs. The tales of greed that have emerged in recent years – from the Conservative, Derek Conway, paying a salary to his son while he was still at university, to the Immigration minister, Tony McNulty, claiming expenses for a home which belongs to his parents – have all been different in detail. But they have had one thing in common: they have eroded public trust in the financial probity of our elected representatives. This latest revelation over Ms Smith's TV bill will do the same.

And yet still MPs are seeking to fend off full disclosure of their expenses. It is time that our pig-headed politicians realised that serious reform of a corrupt allowance system is not just what the public demand – it is in their own best interests.

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