Saturday, 26 April 2008

Who's got all the money?

More than 100 MPs have declared family members they employ using their taxpayer-funded expenses.

The list of 106 includes the home secretary, environment secretary and the standards committee chairman.

A register of employed relatives was set up after revelations about Tory MP Derek Conway's payments to his son. It will become compulsory in August.

There is no rule against MPs employing relatives but the European Parliament has voted to ban the practice for MEPs.
It really does say something about our MPs, when hundreds of them are behaving in a manner that even the passengers on the Strasbourg to Brussels gravy train deem unethical!

The register is currently voluntary but will be compulsory by 1 August.

It is likely more will come forward. The current list amounts to 54 Labour MPs, 39 Conservatives, eight Liberal Democrats, one independent, two DUP and two SNP MPs.

But in February Tory leader David Cameron said "just over" 70 of his MPs employed family members.

If the discrepancy between the 39 Tories who have admitted that they are employing relatives, and the 70 odd who actually do so is typical of all parties, then somewhere near 200 MPs have family members on the payroll. Out of a total of 646, that seems rather a lot.

There are no rules against employing relatives and previously there had been no obligation to declare them publicly.

Shadow Commons leader Theresa May said: "In principle, there is nothing wrong with employing family members, but it is important that we have openness and transparency so that the system is not abused."

But Matthew Elliott, of the pressure group the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the employment of relatives was "completely outdated" adding: "To dispel any suspicion that they are taking advantage of taxpayers' generosity, this practice should be banned once and for all."

MPs only have to give job titles of employed relatives - they do not have to spell out details of the work they do.

Being in a charitable mood, I'll accept that some of those relatives who are on the payroll are doing the job they're paid for. But in the light of the Conway family saga, one has to wonder how many of those with impressive titles and taxpayer-funded salaries are really just Henry Conway-style freeloaders. A fair few, I'd guess. Certainly, I imagine that we might see some interesting declarations from those MPs who are holding back their declarations until the last minute. It's almost like they had something they wanted to hide...

When public money is being spent, it is only reasonable to demand that the public be allowed to know precisely what it is being spent on, and be able to feel sure that it is not being wasted. Given the Conway scandal, and the claim from Labour MP Chris Mullin that MPs feel entitled to claim as much on expenses as they can get away with, regardless of how much they've actually spent, we cannot simply take our MPs at their word when they assure us that the money they claim in expenses is being used honestly and effectively. Matthew Elliot's suggestion of preventing MPs from giving taxpayers' money to their relatives seems drastic. But given the avaricious nature of many (most?) MPs, it may perhaps become necessary. Or we could just take away all their expenses, and let them fund their own activities from their own pockets...

1 comment:

Alex said...

Theresa May said: In principle, there is nothing wrong with employing family members

On the contrary, in principle, there's a lot wrong with putting family members on the public payroll. Has she never heard of nepotism?

May's self-serving justification - with the usual drivel about "transparency" etc. - shows yet again why, as Thomas Mann said, it's foolish to take politics seriously, to care about it, to sacrifice one's moral and intellectual strength to it. All one can do is survive, and preserve one's personal freedom and dignity.