Opinion by Michael Fabricant MP.
CYNICISM ABOUT MPs BRINGS RISK OF EXTREMISM
Despite major changes that have hastily been made to the rules under which MPs? expenses can now be claimed, the matter has not been closed down.
The sustained attack on the House of Commons and on ?anyone-in-authority? carries great dangers. Low poll turnouts, particularly in the European elections which are notoriously fickle, have lead to the election of extremist parties. And while Britain is nothing like Germany in the 30s, we ought never to forget that financial collapse and political instability born from a cynicism of the old order, lead to the democratic election of the National Socialist Party: the Nazis.
So while we are far from that stage, it is worth examining how the present expenses scandal evolved in the first place.
Some 40 or so years ago, it was thought appropriate that Members of Parliament ought to have their pay linked to an appropriate grade in the civil service. Unfortunately, through some arcane procedure long lost in time, MPs are obliged to vote for any changes in their pay each year. Not surprisingly, as public sector pay rose, party leaders found it increasingly embarrassing to ask their MPs to vote for corresponding pay rises. And so the system of ?allowances? as well as expenses were born.
When I was elected to Parliament, I was told by officials that the allowances are, in effect, a substitute for salary; no receipts were consequently required, and that the annual allowance should be claimed for either monthly or quarterly pro rata.
Only in recent years were receipts requested. And there lay the problem. While readers will have little sympathy with expense claims for duck islands or moats – even though the House of Commons never actually paid for them as the claims were rejected ? the MPs desirous of such fripperies had the mindset that they were paying for them out of their earned income. So, they asked themselves, why shouldn?t they buy what they liked? Of course some MPs did deliberately set out to deceive and they have faced an end to their careers in Parliament and perhaps criminal prosecution; but they are a tiny minority.
So where do we go from here? Independent reviews into allowances, expenses, and pay are currently under way. But one thing cannot be allowed through a knee jerk reaction: a return to the bad days when the only individuals who could afford to stand for Parliament were wealthy Tories with a private income and Labour MPs in the pockets of their trade unions. That would be a retrograde step indeed.