By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
There is a letter in today's Guardian from Adrian Yalland, a former approved Conservative candidate and now a lobbyist, which defends MPs in light of Eric Joyce's arrest for assault earlier this week.
The crucial part of the letter is:
"As a result of the stress, many have an ambivalent attitude towards the job (both loving and hating it), drink too much, exercise too little, eat unhealthily, work too many hours, and end up in unfortunate situations. Many are lonely, unhappy and living in debt. But they cannot say so, because they would be misunderstood by the media and the electorate, and shown no sympathy because "many others want to do your job". The vast majority of MPs I know, across all parties, are motivated by a commitment to making this country better. Very few go into politics for an easy life or to get rich. But do we have to make it so manifestly difficult for them to do their job? In the end, it is we, the electorate, who suffer."
Yalland ends his letter by saying "it's surely time to support our MPs". But the question is whether MPs will receive support from people outside former Parliamentary candidates and the Westminster village.
If there were to be a re-examination of attitudes towards MPs from the public at large, it would be a sign that the 2010 intake has learnt the lessons of the last Parliament and is managing to change perceptions of this one. There is no sign of this happening at present, however.
By Matthew Barrett
Follow Matthew on Twitter
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which was set up as the regulator for expenses following the Parliamentary expenses scandal, has often been criticised by MPs for being too bureaucratic, remote from those it seeks to regulate, and for enforcing seemingly illogical rules.
IPSA's popularity amongst MPs has, however, not been comprehensively polled - until ComRes, in association with Total Politics magazine, polled 152 MPs from the three main parties. As Total Politics notes, MPs tend to think of IPSA as something that should be scrapped, or something that should be suffered because "the public holds no sympathy whatsoever for complaints". Neither of these attitudes is particularly positive towards IPSA, and the results of the polling reflect that.
By Jonathan Isaby
The BBC is reporting that the former Labour MP for Livingston, Jim Devine, has been jailed for 16 months over his parliamentary expense claims.
He was last month found guilty of using false invoices to claim £8,385 for cleaning and printing work.
Here is how the Press Association is reporting the news:
Former Labour MP Jim Devine has been found guilty of fiddling his expenses. Devine, 57, who held the Livingston seat, submitted false invoices for cleaning and printing work totalling £8,385. He was found guilty by a jury at Southwark Crown Court of two charges of false accounting. He was cleared of one other count relating £360 for cleaning work.
The former backbencher, of West Main Street, Bathgate, West Lothian, was the first MP to stand trial in the wake of the expenses scandal. The jury of six men and six women took two hours and 45 minutes to agree with the prosecution that on the two counts Devine showed a "woeful inadequacy" in abiding by the core principles expected of MPs.
Peter Wright QC, prosecuting, said the case against Devine was "very straightforward". The former MP made the fraudulent claims "with a view to gain for himself, or with an intent to cause loss to another - the public purse".
The prosecutor said a guide known as the Green Book was readily available to MPs and clearly set out the rules and regulations on submitting expenses that must relate to parliamentary duties. It lists the fundamental principles MPs should adhere to when making expenses claims, Mr Wright told the court.
"These are based on concepts of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership," he said. "We say these are qualities of which Mr Devine demonstrated a woeful inadequacy."
Devine was granted unconditional bail by Mr Justice Saunders, the trial judge, and he will be sentenced in due course.
By Jonathan Isaby
David Chaytor (pictured), formerly Labour MP for Bury North, pleaded guilty last month to three charges of false accounting, after submitting bogus invoices to support claims totalling £22,650. He has just been sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 18 months in jail.
This morning, his barrister, James Sturman QC, pleaded for his client to be spared a jail term, claiming that he was already a "broken man".
Among his false claims were £5,425 for renting a house owned by his mother for which he paid her nothing; and £12,925 for a home which he already owned (but for which drew up a fake tenancy agreement),
Unconnected trials are still to follow for sitting Barnsley Central MP Eric Illsley, former Labour MPs Elliot Morley and Jim Devine, and former Tory peers Lord Hanningfield and Lord Taylor of Warwick.
By Jonathan Isaby
Sir John Stanley, the Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling, believes that by the way it is handling expenses claims, IPSA is effectively stopping MPs from being able to discharge their duties and, as such, could be in breach of parliamentary privilege.
He has given notice that he wants the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee to investigate this charge and is seeking the backing of colleagues for a technical motion that would allow for this to happen when the Commons returns from the summer recess.
This afternoon Sir John wrote the following letter to parliamentary colleagues:
He declares an interest as an MP who has experienced "substantial interference" in the performance of his parliamentary duties "as a result of the terms and methods of operation of the IPSA MPs' Expenses Scheme".
IPSA and the Privilege of Freedom from Obstruction
"In the Westminster Hall debate on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority initiated by David Winnick on June 16, I raised the issue as to whether IPSA may be in breach of the Parliamentary Privilege of freedom from "Obstructing Members of either House in the discharge of their duty" (Erskine May p.143). I referred to the advice I had taken from the Clerk of the House as to the ambit of that privilege (Hansard 16 June 2010 Cols 143-145WH). I said that this key issue for MPs and their staff needed to be placed before the Standards and Privileges Committee at an early date.
"I shall therefore when the House returns on Monday September 6, in accordance with the required procedure, be submitting an application for a Precedence Motion to Mr Speaker. For newly elected MPs who may not be familiar with this procedure, it is only by making an application for a Precedence Motion to The Speaker that MPs can have a breach of Privilege complaint considered by the Standards and Privileges Committee.
"The establishment of IPSA has created an unprecedented constitutional situation. Never before in the history of Parliament has a statutory body outside Parliament had the capacity, however unintended, to cause "substantial interference" (Erskine May p.167) with MPs' performance of their parliamentary functions.
"It is clear that the boundary between the statutory authority of IPSA and the ambit of the Parliamentary Privilege of freedom from obstruction needs to be defined, and defined by the House itself. I request therefore that you consider supporting my application to Mr Speaker for a Precedence Motion."
By Jonathan Isaby
In December last year, the Sunday Times accused Conservative peer Lord Taylor of Warwick of claiming tens of thousands of pounds in expenses to which he should not have been entitled.
The accusations surrounded alleged claims using his late mother's address as his main home six years after her death.
Today the Crown Prosecution Service has announced that Lord Taylor Taylor has been charged with six counts of false accounting under the Theft Act , relating to claims for more than £11,000 overnight subsistence and mileage.
The Telegraph has more details.
I now understand that he has resigned the Conservative whip in the Lords.
Since legal proceedings are now underway against him, comments are closed on this thread.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has today announced details of a new expenses scheme for MPs.
IPSA has highlighted the following key changes in its press release:
I will look through the whole document and see what else is worthy of note.
Other measures included in the new scheme include:
*The 128 MPs who will under the new rules be unable to claim anything for renting a London property are all 73 MPs from Greater London along with MPs repsresenting the following 55 seats in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Surrey and West Sussex:
Aldershot; Basildon & Billericay; Basingstoke; Beaconsfield; Brentwood & Ongar; Broxbourne; Castle Point; Chatham & Aylesford; Chelmsford; Chesham & Amersham; Crawley; Dartford; East Surrey; Epping Forest; Epsom & Ewell; Esher & Walton; Gravesham; Guildford; Harlow; Hemel Hempstead; Hertford & Stortford; Hertsmere; Hitchin & Harpenden; Luton North; Luton South; Maidenhead; Mid Sussex; Milton Keynes North; Milton Keynes South; Mole Valley; North East Bedfordshire; North East Hampshire; North East Hertfordshire; Reading East; Reading West; Reigate; Rochester & Strood; Runnymede & Weybridge; Sevenoaks; Slough; South Basildon & East Thurrock; South West Bedfordshire; South West Hertfordshire; South West Surrey; Spelthorne; St Albans; Stevenage; Surrey Heath; Thurrock; Tonbridge & Malling; Watford; Welwyn Hatfield; Windsor; Woking; and Wycombe.
“We supported the creation of an independent regulator to determine and pay MPs’ expenses. We are grateful that IPSA have said the new scheme will be up and running by the beginning of the new Parliament. We welcome that the overall costs of this new package, and IPSA’s running costs, will be lower than at present, which we have long argued for. We believe that IPSA’s proposals should be accepted as one of the steps we need to take to clean up Parliament.”
The BBC has a handy guide here comparing the old expenses regime with the new rules.
Mr Starmer said that there was insufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of a conviction of Lord Clarke of Hampstead and that a sixth case was still under investigation.
Read his full statement here.
* Noon update: Lord Hanningfield has resigned from the Conservative frontbench and had the party whip suspended. And by 4pm he had also resigned as Leader of Essex County Council.
Since legal proceedings are now underway against four individuals, comments are closed on this thread.
The House of Commons heard a statement from the Speaker about expenses yesterday. Herewith the lowlights:
"Members will be aware of the unauthorised disclosure of material relating to their allowances, which has appeared in the press on Friday and over the weekend. This has caused great public concern.
Leaving aside the legal aspect, to which I shall return in a moment, the House has to make serious change to the system of allowances. Right hon. and hon. Members will know that we have been working to new rules from 1 April. We also know that there will be further changes, with proper, independent audit assurance. But working to the rules and the rules alone is not what is expected of any hon. Member; it is important that the spirit of what is right must be brought in now. We are also setting up an operational assurance unit with independent oversight to secure the proper handling of claims. This will be operating very shortly.
To return to the legal aspect, the Clerk of the House immediately sought advice. He was advised that there was no real basis for seeking an injunction but that there was some basis for considering that a criminal offence or offences may have been committed. As right hon. and hon. Members will know from a communication that they received on Friday afternoon, he accordingly referred the matter to the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police. I can understand hon. Members’ concerns about the revealing of details of bank accounts, style of signature and verbal passwords and their concern that an individual who may have sold the data is also capable of selling this information further. That is why the police have been informed. I am also writing to the publisher of the newspaper, drawing this fact to their attention and reminding them of the serious security implications if personal data that might expose Members and others to risks to their safety were to be published. The letter will be copied to all national newspapers."
It is thanks to the judiciary, not to the Speaker, that some progress is finally being made in tackling expense abuses. Speaker Martin is wholly incapable of dealing with this issue. The release of personal details might well be a problem - but it's hardly the big issue. It is extremely self regarding to think that it is.
Labour MP Kate Hoey made a perfectly sensible point, which the Speaker naturally balked at:
"Kate Hoey (Vauxhall) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to point out that many of us—I hope from all parts of the House—feel that bringing in the Metropolitan police, who have a huge job to do in London at the moment in dealing with all sorts of problems, to try to find out who has leaked something, when, as has been pointed out, the newspapers have handled the personal details very responsibly by blanking them out, is an awful waste of resources? Will the public not see this, whatever the intention, as a way of hiding—
Mr. Speaker: Let me answer the hon. Lady. I listen to her often when I turn on the television at midnight, and I hear her public utterances and pearls of wisdom on Sky News—it is easy to talk then. Let me put this to the hon. Lady and to every hon. Member in this House: is it the case than an employee of this House should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing? The allegations—I emphasise that they are allegations—are that that information was handed over to a third party in order to find the highest bidder for private information. If I do not ask, or rather if the Clerk of the House does not ask, for the police to be brought in, we are saying that that employee should be left in situ with all the personal information of every hon. Member, including the hon. Lady’s own information and that of her employees. Let me say that anyone who has looked at their own un-redacted information can see that the signatures of employees are exposed, that private ex-directory numbers are exposed and that passwords—telephone passwords—are exposed. I just say to the hon. Lady that it is easy to say to the press, “This should not happen,” but it is a wee bit more difficult when you have to do more than just give quotes to the Express—or the press, rather—and do nothing else; some of us in this House have other responsibilities, other than just talking to the press."
South Staffordshire's own Sir Patrick Cormack at least had a proposal that would have a cleansing effect:
"Sir Patrick Cormack (South Staffordshire) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. When you have your discussions later this week, will you please discuss with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the advisability of bringing in an implement that would be used in virtually every other capital city—the water cannon?
During the debate on MPs' expenses yesterday Derek Conway, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup, made a noteworthy contribution. (He is listed as a Conservative in Hansard but is not on the Conservative Party website's list of MPs.)
He compared his own experience after being found to have paid his son for work that was not undertaken to that of the now Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Caroline Spelman. Mrs Spelman was recently cleared of deliberately breaching rules, but agreed to pay back expenses she had used to pay a nanny.
Mr Conway said:
"More than 200 close family members are employed by Members of Parliament. Many more employ lovers, who are not necessarily known to be related, and many more again employ in-laws because of the difference in their surnames. No doubt the total number of relatives employed by Members of the House is 250 rather than the lower estimate. Is that wrong? People will make their own judgments about my case, and they have done so. However, many Members of Parliament find it convenient to employ family members, not necessarily to supplement their income, because many MPs take a drop in salary when they come to this place—I halved my salary when I came back. Many Members employ family because of availability and reliability, and as many Members have experienced before me, family members are often employed for confidentiality and convenience. Is it just the money? I am not sure that that is the case, and it will be interesting to see how the Commission addresses the problems of central employment...
However, the standard of proof varies, and I say to the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee that if his reports are contrasted, they will show that there is a difference in the standards applied, not only by the current Committee but by previous Committees, to the Members before them. The House will recall the treatment that led to the loss of Elizabeth Filkin’s services, in relation to the case of the right hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts (John Reid), and more recently the comparison between the investigation into my family and that into the employment arrangements of the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman)...
One wonders whether Committees of the House, as we know from experience, bend over backwards to try to protect Front Benchers if they possibly can."
Both Sir Patrick Cormack and Bernard Jenkin intervened on points of order to claim that as Mr Conway had accepted the findings of the House it was a bit rich to revisit the issue again.
Sir George Young, who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, had tabled an amendment to defeat the Government's motions, as he felt they pre-empted Sir Christopher Kelly's independent review for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
Then Leader of the House Harriet Harman announced that the Government would support Sir George's amendment, but have votes on other reforms.
The motion relating to MPs being paid to turn up to work was withdrawn before going to a vote. And the reform of the second homes allowance will be left to Sir Christopher (although London MPs will lose their allowance for a second home).
Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan comes into his own during debates like these:
"We are living in very feverish economic and political times. At a moment like this, the House can either look absolutely absurd or lift its level of debate and discussion to something that properly understands what this place should be. The boot that is on one foot at the moment can, in due course, change, and the balance of advantage in this place changes with it. We must therefore appreciate that this Parliament needs to work through those changes and set standards to which everyone will adhere.