Sunday, May 17, 2009

British MPs expenses scandal

Some interesting points made by Moore:

MPs' expenses: The House of Commons is ours, not theirs. Don't ruin it, reclaim it
Charles Moore
Telegraph Comment
15 May 2009
Our thirst for revenge over the expenses scandal is understandable but there is an alternative


In the last 40 years, Parliament has given away much of its authority to the European Union, quangos, bureaucracies and courts. Since 1997, the Government has grabbed greater control of the legislative timetable and therefore almost always gets its way. The great function of Parliament – to make the right laws and decide the level of taxes – has become almost nominal. And so the motive for entering the place has changed. You start as a backbencher nowadays, only to become a frontbencher.

People complain about MPs having "second jobs". They do not realise that the most common second job – and the one which produces the biggest conflict of interest – is being a minister.

If you are a minister, you lose your independence. You have to take the side of the government rather than of Parliament and people. You are in a chamber physically shaped for argument (the word "parliament" means a place where talking goes on), and yet argument is what you want to suppress. For centuries, MPs fought for parliamentary "privilege". This meant the right to vote and debate without intimidation from the king. But "the king" – whose modern equivalent is the government – has regained control. Now, when MPs talk of their privileges, they mean things like the additional costs allowance and free sausage rolls.

To start making proper laws once more, MPs should have almost no allowances, and modest wages. In return, they should be free to earn money by other means, so long as we know what those means are. They will learn much more about the rest of life than if they sit in Westminster all day and all night. The privileges they should be granted are of power, not money.

Why, for example, can the Government appoint people to public bodies (all 43,000 of them) without parliamentary approval? Why is European legislation not properly scrutinised? Why should the whips decide who chairs which parliamentary committee? Why can an MP become a minister – and therefore take "on office of profit under the Crown" – without consulting his constituents? Until the early 20th century, any MP offered a ministerial job had to fight a by-election. If you brought that rule back, the Government would think twice about swelling its "payroll vote", and the public could put the needs of the Commons before those of the executive. All possible mechanisms should change to shift the balance of power and the focus of ambition.


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