Letters: Time to end this mess over MPs’ expenses

These letters appear in the Tuesday 8th April edition of the Independent

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It is time that the issue of MPs’ expenses was resolved. The current situation brings the whole House of Commons into disrepute.

A constituency, probably in outer London, should be selected and a commission established to determine a reasonable level of expenses for the work of the MP of that constituency. A figure should be determined for each other constituency using the first as a baseline. MPs would receive the amount determined for their constituency with no deductions or additions for any reason. The savings in administration would be substantial.

Constituents would decide, ultimately via the ballot box, whether they were receiving value for money. As long as an MP provided a service that satisfied their constituents then how the money was spent would be irrelevant. They could employ anyone, member of their family or not. Erroneous claims could not happen, because there would be no claims.

Phil Smith, Maidenhead, Berkshire

There is a lot of coverage about an individual politician’s expenses. This suits a lot of people who believe politicians are generally corrupt, and distracts attention from our political system itself. People want to scapegoat individuals and focus on personalities. However, our whole political system needs substantial reform.

Our electoral system distorts the outcome of a vote; there is no recall of MPs; we don’t elect our House of Lords and they are unaccountable; we don’t elect our head of state; little has changed since universal suffrage in 1928, and just having the vote isn’t enough. They had the vote in the Soviet Union. Above all, we only have a meaningful vote for our legislature every five years.

Martin Peters, Taunton, Somerset

Andrew Mitchell was jettisoned by the Prime Minister and forced to resign as Chief Whip for allegedly calling a jobsworth policeman at the gates to Downing Street a pleb – an allegation Mr Mitchell has consistently denied. Yet Maria Miller retains Mr Cameron’s “warm support” despite a serious finding of non-cooperation with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the perfunctory apology that she gave to the House of Commons on 3 April. And this is to leave aside the fact that Mrs Miller was required to repay £5,800 admittedly over-claimed by her in respect of mortgage interest on her London home.

Once again the Prime Minister’s judgment is called into question.

David Lamming, Boxford, Suffolk

It is my experience that anyone caught fiddling their state benefits is not only made to repay their ill-gotten gains in full but can be lumbered with a substantial fine to boot.

Mrs Miller, on the other hand, is asked (asked, mind you) to repay £45,000 of our money, only to have it later reduced to a paltry £5,800. But never mind, she has Mr Cameron’s full support, which speaks volumes about his judgement and the character of this government.

David Hooley, Newmarket, Suffolk

You are right to call for an end to MPs policing colleagues’ expenses (editorial, 7 April). But MPs’ expenses are only the latest example of self-regulation failing. Is there any sector where self-regulation is actually effective?

Dr Alex May, Manchester

Visitor let down by British police

I recently graduated from the University of London, and travelled from Hong Kong to attend the ceremony. I was an LLB student, paying more than £20,000 into the UK economy for my course. Happily, they taught me much about the law.  Unfortunately, my visit to London taught me some unwelcome lessons about the English justice system.

I was celebrating my success with a small group of overseas friends in a smart restaurant in Bayswater when my handbag was surreptitiously stolen by two nearby diners. The culprits left behind a mobile phone and there was CCTV operating.

If this had happened in Hong Kong, a posse of policemen would have taken action within minutes of my reporting a crime, in an effort to apprehend the culprit, either on the premises or in the vicinity. But this is London.

In response to my 999 call, I was told that there was no death or injury, so no policemen would be sent. I was shocked to be told that the nearby police stations had all closed for the day, so I would have to make my way to West End Central station to make a report. After a long wait in line, I made my report to one of only two officers on duty there.

They gamely attempted to show interest, but were clearly overworked and dispirited. When I requested a printout of my report for insurance and passport purposes, I was informed that all I could have was a crime reference number.

Some days later, I received an email from the case management unit, claiming they were investigating but effectively closing the case. Without a trace of irony, the email incorporated a mission statement from the Metropolitan Police Service: “Total Policing is the Met’s commitment to be on the streets and in your communities to catch offenders, prevent crime and support victims.”

We have learned that an abiding strength of Hong Kong society is our rule of law, perhaps the greatest legacy bestowed by Great Britain. But now I fear that the rule of law will quickly evaporate if the enforcement agency is abolished.

Becky Kwan, Kowloon, Hong Kong

The revelation by the Metropoliitan Police Federation that there is a “climate of fear” within the Met will come as no surprise to rank-and-file officers.

There has always been a culture of bullying and manipulation of crime figures within the police service. This has been exacerbated in the Met since 2011 and is now endemic. Grillings reminiscent of The Wire and sackings of borough commanders by senior Scotland Yard officers have become common knowledge throughout the force and this target culture works its way down the ranks.

Chris Hobbs, London W7

English tradition of multiculturalism

I was surprised by Edward Thomas’s reminiscences of monocultural Cockney Hackney in the 1950s (letter, 4 April). When I arrived at university in London at that time, one of my first excitements was meeting the very clever, articulate Jewish students from Hackney Grammar School, alma mater of Harold Pinter among others. 

A few years later I lived and taught in Hackney and “monocultural” is the last adjective I should have used. Many of my pupils had East European or German surnames, their parents and grandparents having fled Nazi Germany or the earlier generation of Russo-Polish pogroms. My neighbours were Hasidic Jews from Czechoslovakia who spoke Yiddish at home. 

I don’t suppose the residents of Hackney “asked for diversity” but they had welcomed the immigrants with generosity and in return got bread and bagels from Grodzinskis even on Christmas Day and wonderful smoked salmon and pickled herrings in the market.

I like to think of this multiculturalism as a part of the “English way of life” recalled by your correspondent.

Jenny Bryer, Birmingham

BBC guidelines on climate science

I disagree with the view that the BBC needs clearer editorial guidelines on the reporting of climate change (“The BBC must not confuse climate change with politics”, editorial, 2 April). The BBC already has editorial guidelines, which are approved by the BBC Trust, alongside a robust complaints process which ensures that concerns about content are dealt with without fear or favour.

In our 2011 impartiality review of the BBC’s coverage of science, the Trust directed the BBC to ensure that equal weight should not be given to well established fact as opposed to personal opinion on this topic. We note that the BBC has said that it seeks to avoid this happening.

Alison Hastings, BBC Trustee, London W1

Cross-channel smog goes both ways

In reports about the pollution cloud which affected parts of the UK last week, and to which continental Europe contributed, why was it never mentioned that, since the prevailing wind here is from the west, usually the reverse happens?

The Low Countries and northern France have no choice but to suffer, sometimes for weeks on end, pollution exported from Britain. I am myself from Lille, in northern France.

Paul Watremez, Bournemouth

Addicted to e-cigarettes?

Does Janet Street-Porter (5 April) have any evidence that e-cigarettes are causing addiction? I understood that such research as is available suggested that, overwhelmingly, they were being used by smokers trying to give up. If so, her remedies would be wholly counterproductive.

Michael Dempsey, London E1