A Clean Sweep

When the Speaker stands up today at 3:30, he has to deal with what might become a complete breakdown of trust in our Parliamentary system, by voters, as a result of the expenses fiasco. The question of expenses rightly angers the public, but the Speaker is now offered a unique opportunity to reform Parliament.

His statement will hopefully cover five areas:

1. He should announce zero tolerance to fraudulent claims. Those in the outside world guilty of the worst abuses that have been uncovered would face prosecution. MPs should not be exempt from the criminal law. My guess is a lot of local parties will also begin the process of deselection. Failure to do so will see incumbents challenged by anti-sleaze candidates, who will probably win their seat.

2. The Speaker needs to announce immediate measures governing all allowances while awaiting the Kelly Commission on Standards in Public Life to report. All expenses from the beginning of this financial year should go online, the moment they have been agreed by the fees office. A slim-line Additional Cost Allowance should be announced with the clearest of guidelines outlining what can be claimed – not what cannot be claimed. The Communications Allowance should be abolished, no allowances should be used for supposed “services” received from local parties, and MPs should be forbidden to allow their local parties to use their offices in the constituencies.

3. The Speaker should announce that he has requested the Kelly Commission to report by mid-July. MPs can then debate the proposals before the summer, but they need to approve them without changing a dot or comma. The Fees Office would then have the summer recess to bring in the totally new system operating from the autumn.

4. The Commons must recognise that we live in an age of party governments, and that parties are crucial for delivering responsible government. Failure to get through their election programme would result in governments not being accountable for broken election promises. As a part of a new clear contract between the government and the Commons, while accepting the need for party government, the Speaker should announce today that it is up to the House of Commons to decide how the Government gets that programme through the House. He should set out that he intends to propose new machinery for managing House of Commons business, so that the Commons itself will in future organise its own timetable to consider Government measures, as well as its own measures.

5. The House of Commons must now better represent the views of voters. This should naturally follow from the Commons gaining control over its own timetable. The Government needs to be much more relaxed about the details of their programme so that MPs, better representing their constituents, can make measures contained in government Bills are more fit for purpose. Similarly, the Commons needs to elect the Chairmen and Members of each of its own Committees by secret ballot. The Select Committee system should also be enhanced not only in a pre-legislative role on Bills. It needs to extend its works so that serious issues raised by constituents are reported upon making it easier for those issues to be translated into future reform programmes.

Further reading:

Expenses are just a symptom, parliament must be remade – Sunday Times.

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