More expenses stories today as Margaret Beckett and Alistair Darling are implicated by the Daily Mail in a Third House expenses scandal. The pair are renting out London Flats whilst living in Grace-and-favour homes whilst claiming the second house allowance on third homes.
Of course the pair are saying that they have not acted outside of the rules, as if this offers defence of their actions. it is the rules, the rules, the rules... and who writes those rules?
The idea behind the allowances towards second homes is to ensure people from any background can afford to run for Parliament without the cost of living in two locations and the travel involved being a barrier to people running. This is so that the Commons can remain full of common people, not only an elite who can afford to be there. The rules around this notion are then designed not to be too constraining to allow MP's not to have to jump through hoops to get back legitimate expenses and use their time serving their constituents.
There in lies the flaw, it is a system designed on the premise that the people using it are honourable and will not abuse it.
It is because it is so easy to claim that so much has and will continue to be claimed. We are not just paying for second houses we are paying for petrol, rail fares and flights in between.
I had hoped that the Conservatives would have got tighter rules published and declare them the standard moving forwards for their candidates and for all MP's upon forming a new Government... I am sure despite their differences Nick Clegg would be on board with such a move as it is something the Liberal Democrats can use on the doorstep in the Labour wards they are targeting.
I personally think that MP's that whose constituencies are within 60 miles of Westminster should not be allowed a second house allowance at all. I understand that on occasion there is the requirement for an MP to stay over night and for those MPs in this zone, provision for a stay in a reasonably priced hotel should be afforded. This sum will be massively below the second house allowances currently being claimed.
For MPs outside the 60 mile zone they should show cause for needing a second home in London, for example, those from Scotland and Wales are too far away for sure, but at 65 or 70 miles, the hotel allowance may still be the cheaper and more appropriate option. However, at 65 to 70 miles this MP may have a ministerial or shadow cabinet position that requires much more time in London and then the cost and inconvenience of hotels may be greater than that of having a residence.
Those requiring a second home should not be allowed to purchase one through expenses. It is not right that MP's be in a position to profit from a home paid for by tax payers. Instead reasonably priced accommodation should be provided by the Government within a reasonable distance to Westminster. These flats or houses (for MP's with families) should be vacated within a week of departing the seat, so that an incoming MP can take their place. My previous suggestion still stands, there would be a benefit to all if these houses were existing council houses. This as much as being an affordable option would locate the MP's and their families in with local communities.
Do I think that changes are forthcoming - No.
Lets look at today's villains, Mr Darling and Mrs Beckett. As MP's they get to write their own rules on how much they get paid and how much they can claim in expenses. I think that should stop, and that we need an elected second chamber so that the two houses can monitor each others behaviour. But, what have these two done to make this part of the system better whilst they can? Nothing. How have they voted in the past? Mr Darling didn't bother and Mrs Beckett voted against a transparent parliament.
So what hope do tax payers have of reigning this in, in the meantime?