Thursday, 14 May 2009

Is Paying Back Expenses Going To Be Enough?

The application for Hazel Blears' and Phil Hope's sainthoods are in video and with the Pope as we speak. St. Hazel of the Flipping Homes is expected to be a shoo-in.

However, Robert Peston has raised the concern that I have. If you hoodwink the taxman in real life, he doesn't usually take it like a jolly old sport. In fact he gets mighty tetchy about the whole thing. Peston brings attention to the Law this morning, the one in which MPs themselves voted to give themselves absolution from real people. It is a law which allows MPs to claim, tax free, the costs of overnight expenses.

Under section 292 of the Income Tax 2003 Act, MPs can claim up to around £23,000 in overnight expenses which of course is the equivalent of £38,000 of taxed money. Within this, they can claim any expense which is necessarily incurred in staying overnight.

I think you know where we are going on this. Gardening, cleaning, sink plugs, ice trays, horse manure, tennis court pipe leaks, moat dredging, swimming pool cleaning, housekeeping etc would be surely of interest to the taxman as they have little to do with overnight expenses. Of course, MPs would argue until blue in the face that housekeeping and cleaning are part of hotel expenses should you choose to blow your allowance that way but real people know the difference.

So, in fact, it does come down to the Law. Paying back wrongly claimed expenses should not be simply allowed as absolution of sin. HMRC should be all over these receipts like a cheap suit. To get back to points made by those MPs who think the Telegraph is the criminal for paying for the information we are reading, here is the good reason why they are actually doing the public service.

They are exposing criminals at work.

Shock, Horror - MPs With Common Decency

Martin Salter, Labour MP for Reading, doesn't claim any expenses and is happy to commute to London from his constituency when he needs to, saying he does not accept public funding as a personal choice. He must be barking mad.

Further away commuters like Alan Williams (Swansea) and Ed Milliband (Doncaster), claim less then a third of the allowance each.

The Conservatives have a complete buffoon in their midst. Phil Dunne, MP for Ludlow, has a flat in London but does not claim a penny and claims it is not 'the right thing to do.' Adam Afriyie, MP for Windsor, is so off his trolley that he not only did not claim his second home allowance but did not claim any travel expenses either. Maybe he is just daft and forgot.

Ann Widdecombe, and yes you expected it, claimed a mere £858 in second home allowances last year and reckons all expense abusers should stand down. It seems there may be a desperate shortage of MPs if all of them had to stand down - but in my book that is no bad thing.

At Lib Dem world, David Howarth, MP for Cambridge, for some reason prefers to commute each day so he can be with his family. Clearly, he is not a man fit to govern with those sort of daft values. He even says that changed sitting hours means it is easy to commute.

What no Queen's Flight waiting on the runway all day in Brussels, no away days to Strasbourg and Brussels with your 'Secretary' as the late Robin Cook enjoyed? No 'Blair Force One', either. Somehow that little presidential perk never got off the ground - not for the want of trying though.

In fairness, there are some decent ones left who seem to use common sense and morals in their judgement. I am sure it makes them better MPs because of it. Interestingly, very few of them are either a serving or Shadow Minister. Tells you all you need to know about the system, doesn't it?

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