Leading article: Time for root and branch reform

Share
Related Topics

Defenders of Britain's political system point out that it is less corrupt than many others. No doubt. But that does not mean our MPs have a right to expect any less censure from the public when they are caught with their hands in the till.

From the salary of Derek Conway's son, to Jacqui Smith's home entertainment, the more we learn of how MPs have been exploiting the House of Commons expenses system, the more it looks to the public like a form of corruption. And the stronger the case for reform.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life yesterday confirmed that it will report on Commons expenses before the end of the year. But there is no good reason why this investigation should take so long. The bulk of the abuses that have come to light centres on the so-called "Additional Costs Allowance", which was introduced to fund a base in London for MPs with constituencies outside the capital.

Any reasonable person will recognise that those MPs who need to shuttle between a distant constituency and Westminster on a regular basis need some public financial support, just as those who work in the private sector are entitled to claim expenses if required to travel as part of their job.

The trouble is that MPs have created a system for themselves which is far more generous than those that exist in the private sector. Under the rules MPs can use their allowances to pay the mortgage on a second home in the capital or their constituency. When they leave Parliament they do not hand over the keys of this property to the Commons. It becomes their personal asset. They are also permitted to furnish and maintain such homes at taxpayers' expense.

One obvious solution is to strip the system down and require MPs to claim for daily expenses incurred in staying away from their main home. This is, after all, what those who travel frequently in the business world must do.

But though the solutions seem relatively straightforward, the politics are anything but. MPs have been fighting desperately for years against their expenses being made public. And even now, with the full weight of public opinion behind transparency, they are trying to edit their expense receipts to their own advantage. It is hard to see the impetus for the necessary reform of the system coming from within the Commons.

Yet there ought to be space for radical reform after the next general election when there is likely to be a caucus of new MPs who lack a direct interest in perpetuating the former system. All party leaders ought to commit themselves now to root-and-branch reform of the expenses system.

Clear principles should govern MPs allowances; principles that can be justified in the court of public opinion. If the past few months have taught us anything, it is that the present arrangements utterly fail that test.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own