Friday, 16 January 2009

MPs expenses

In an example of "good day to bury bad news" news management, Harriet Harman chsoe the same day of the the Heathrow third runway announcement to slip out the news that the House of Commons is preparing to block the publication of all receipts for MPs expenses, which had previously been ordered by an Information Tribunal.

I did try and get the exact wording of the announcement but Hansard seems to be down at the present, maybe it is suffering from shame.

I could bang on and on about how disgusting this decision ids, but instead here are the comments of some others:

1) The Times' RedBox -
"We had been expecting the results of this massive FOI exercise, involving the release of 1 million pieces of paper, by the Summer. It will now be canned in favour of the release of a spreadsheet with 26 headings, which gives a fraction of the information otherwise available. Under the new expenses rules published today, MPs will be also allowed:

** To buy "White goods": electrical equipment, sofas, chairs, tables, decoration, cleaning, insurance and security to be bought on expenses. This is limited to 10 per cent of the allowance (probably around £20,000) excet during the first year a Member is newly elected.

** Public money will be allowed on spent on MPs' mortgage costs for "refurbishment"

** A flat-rate £25 per day may be claimed when a "Member spends a night away from his or her main home on Parliamentary business". Which will be most of the time.

** No receipts to be submitted for items costing under £25. "It has been argued that it would be excessively burdensome for Members to have provided receipts for all transactions and that additional costs incurred.. would be likely disproportionate."

** There will be no minimum number of MPs whose expenses will face audit. Instead there will be checks on "an appropriate, risk-base sampling regime".

A victory for those who wanted minimal change, but there will be questions from those who have maintained that MPs cannot regulate themselves.

Update: And who is responsible? The Speaker and the Members' Estimates Committee are responsible for diluting the changes to what MPs can claim.

But Harriet Harman and the government are behind the move to prevent receipts being published. The move requires the Freedom of Information Act to be amended, and Jack Straw has apparently laid an Statutory Instrument which does so for the House to approve."

2) Guido Fawkes -
"Elsewhere the parliamentary authorities are suppressing full disclosure of MPs expenses. Jacqui Smith has (without reference to parliament) given herself the right to read Guido's email without a warrant, yet MPs in contrast are changing the Freedom of Information laws to allow them to obscure our view of their petty fiddles. There is no other credible explanation. They claim that it would be too expensive to account for all expenditure - try putting that on your tax return. Some MPs are taking it upon themselves to voluntarily publish ALL their expenses, some will not, draw your own conclusions. If they have done nothing wrong, they have nothing to hide..."

3) Mr Eugenides -
"And in order to prevent us from seeing receipts for what they buy, the Freedom of Information Act must be altered - for precisely which purpose the egregious Jack Straw has today laid a Statutory Instrument before the Commons.


Let's make this clear; if you are furnishing your home with my money, then I demand to know how much is being spent on what. This is not a burdensome requirement; it is the basic fucking minimum I am entitled to expect. No agent of the gigantic state apparatus that these people have constructed to empty my pockets would accept my airy assurances in place of a receipt, so why should we accept it of them?"

4) A Tangled Web -
"Honestly, my contempt for the political class grows by the day when I read this sort of thing..

"Details of MPs’ claims for plasma televisions, furniture and cleaning bills will be kept secret after Harriet Harman bowed to backbenchers’ pressure to stop expenses claims being published. MPs are preparing to pass a new law next week that will exempt them from parts of the Freedom of Information Act, meaning that they will never again be forced to publish receipts for their claims, in defiance of an order by the High Court. This would make MPs the only public sector employees with special privileges to protect them from disclosing their expenses.""

5) The Mail -
"MPs were accused of a 'new level of arrogance' last night as they launched a bid to keep secret full details of how they spend millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

And they will further mock voters with a new rulebook allowing them to carry on squandering cash on furniture and home improvements.

With households and businesses cutting costs, the moves will be seen as more evidence that elected representatives are hopelessly out of touch.

The announcement that Ministers want to defy the High Court and block publication of receipts for MPs' expenses was buried on the day news was dominated by Government statements on Heathrow and Equitable Life.

The extraordinary move is in direct response to a High Court judgment upholding an Information Tribunal ruling that receipt-by-receipt breakdowns for how public money is spent by MPs must be published.

Speaker Michael Martin spent around £150,000 of public money unsuccessfully fighting the case.

A Parliamentary order has now been drafted to exclude MPs and peers from parts of the Freedom of Information Act. If both Houses of Parliament back it next week it could become law within 24 hours, and no receipts need be published. "

MPs see themselves as above the law and the results of such actions are likely to be less than pretty.

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