Last word for now on the MPs’ expenses shenanigans. Take a look at the Green Book for 2009, the official guide to Parliamentary expenses. These are the areas for allowances:
- Employing staff (Staffing Expenditure)
- Provision of facilities, equipment and supplies for themselves and their staff (Administrative and Office Expenditure)
- Overnight stays away from home whilst on parliamentary duties (Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure)
- Communicating with constituents (Communications Expenditure)
- House stationery and postage (Stationery and Postage)
- Travel – between Westminster, the constituency and main home (Travel expenditure)
Now, at risk of angering those who think MPs should have no expenses whatsoever, these all look perfectly reasonable. Taken in conjunction with the over-riding requirement that Claims must only be made for expenditure that it was necessary for a Member to incur to ensure that he or she could properly perform his or her parliamentary duties the current requirements, at their basic level, look like a perfectly good basis for a reformed system.
It is, of course, in the finer print that the abuses creep in. The allowance for overnight stays away from home turns into an allowance for a second home – including to buy furnishings, cleaners and ‘subsistence’, terms so wide-ranging that Gordon Brown used it to pay for his Sky Sports package. Jacqui Smith buys suede cushions and stone sinks on our buck.
There is a perfectly good answer to all this, which is for the House of Commons to publish all expense claims made by MPs each year – or, if this is seen as too massive an undertaking, a randomly selected representative sample. I can see, for instance, why the taxpayer should subsidise MPs accommodation near the Palace of Westminster, but not why I should be buying cushions, or Sky Sports packages. If the MP knew that each claim they make would be subject to public scrutiny, then the sort of rule-stretching that we have seen recently would stop.