Friday, 8 May 2009

A Parliament of Saints..

The vast outpouring of self-righteous indignation that has followed today's revelations of MP's expenses in the Daily Telegraph has been staggering and disappointing.

I think a lot of it is party partisan motivated and it would be fascinating to see if similar information about Conservative MPs, were it to be revealed, would provoke a similar reaction. I'm also of the view that we are none of us saints and we can't expect our Parliament to be full of saints. There has to be representation by and of sinners.

It's also clear that the current system no longer meets the requirements of a sceptical public who in a time of general stringency find the claims by MPs and the lack of transparency appalling. As a result, the system is no longer tenable.

However, there is a real risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. A genuine need to curb the excessive and inappropriate claims of MPs must not become a witchhhunt by which MPs are scarcely able to support themselves. Being an MP doesn't come cheap and it must remain a profession open to all irrespective of circumstance. We do not want to go down the American route which effectively bars office to all but the most independently wealthy.

In Britain, we must allow anyone and everyone the opportunity to become an MP which, to be fair, takes a lot of hard work and dedication. That also means providing those with less means the support and infrastructure required to allow them to carry out their Constituency duties and if that means providing financial help with housing and other things, so be it. A chamber filled only with the independently wealthy would be unrepresentative and unworkable.

There's a lot wrong with the current system and clearly there have been some abuses and these need to be dealt with. However, within the current system, there are mechanisms which can trigger the removal of an MP. There are things an MP can do which can get him or her expelled.

It may well be that these mechanisms and procedures need to be strengthened and extended so that it becomes if not easier to expel an MP then it becomes easier to prosecute on the basis of venality. I do reject the concept, espoused by some, of a "recall" mechanism. Such a process would be open to widespread abuse and could be used to ambush perfectly good MPs in midterm.

We clearly need a much clearer and more transparent method of supporting our MPs and in the same way we need a more transparent and defined method for their expulsion.

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