Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Inquiry into MPs' expenses - are they serious?

Michael Martin, Speaker of the House of Commons, has pledged a thorough investigation into all aspects of MPs' finances. As the chair of the Estimates Committee, he's appointed three members - one Labour, one Conservative, and one Lib Dem - to report back later this year.

The problem is, the Tory representative is one David Maclean MP. The same David Maclean who last year tried to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, and who might even succeed if his snotty rag of a private members' bill makes it through the Lords. The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill was entirely unnecessary - it was claimed to be an important protection for MPs handling the confidential details of their constituents, but letters from constituents are already exempted, and always have been. Maclean's bill was tabled for no reason other than to protect MPs from proper scrutiny by the people who elect them. If this charade is supposed to reestablish trust in our political system, I can't think of a worse person to head the enquiry than Maclean.

Still, the problem runs far deeper than one disingenuous MP. Maclean's distasteful bill would never have made it through the Commons last year without the help of the government, which gave its tacit support, and which could certainly have squished it without breaking sweat if it had wanted to. Maclean may have tabled the motion, but many MPs in very senior places are complicit, thanks to their deliberate inaction.

As Iain Dale points out, the three MPs in question (the others are Sir Stuart Bell and Nick Harvey) are all old hands, and are well and truly steeped in the parliamentary culture. There's no representation from industry, or from outside of the Commons. Iain's predicting a whitewash; I'll reserve judgement until the report comes out, but I can't see how any report produced under these circumstances can have any legitimacy.

There's something rotten in Britain's political culture, and it'll take far more than a report by the Estimates Committee to sort things out.


rob's uncle said...

Nick Harvey is described by Guido as 'a LibDem MP and former spinner for lobbyists Citigate Dewe Rogerson who still keeps his hand in as a consultant to parliamentary lobbyists Trimedia.' Is this what you mean by 'an old Parliamentary hand'?

Lee Griffin said...

It doesn't matter if they're old hands or not, the fact they are part of the problem means it is ridiculous for them to come up with the solution. I agree completely with the OP here, and personally believe this is just the perfect example of what the whole of this government is trying to pull these days.