After much embrassment for the government in recent days, Gordon Brown annoucned that he wanted to rush through reforms to the expenses system.
The MP for Rother Valley, Kevin Barron generally rebels against his party when issues of his own earnings are voted on, so I wondered how he would react to the news. You know what comes next:
Dear Kevin Barron,
Please think about the environment and the PSBR, and reply via email to email@example.com
I note that you have voted strongly in favour of proposals to pay MPs a higher salary, and against proposals limiting expenses and allowing greater scrutiny of what MPs claim in expenses.
In fact matters concerning your own remuneration seem to be the only ones on which you consistently rebel against your party. You have rebelled against your party 26 times in 2618 votes since 1997, and nine
of those 26 occasions have been to do with wages or expenses. It would see you believe your party is pretty much always right apart from when it comes to your wages.
Your voting record is summarised at http://prune.it/njux
I also note that you claim right up to the limit for your second home, although you didn’t used to.
I see in the news today that the Prime Minister is keen to see an immediate reform of MPs expenses in light of the various scandals that suggest that some of your colleagues cannot be trusted to behave honourably.
Can you tell me if you now feel able to vote in favour of changes that would make MPs expenses more can be claimed? If not, why not, and if so, why have you not done so
Personally I suggest that the government take the opportunity to buy a flat per constituency whilst the property market is depressed and just allocate them to MPs – then the country has assets, the housing market receives a boost, MPs have somewhere to live without the stress of finding somewhere, the possibilities for acting in bad faith are reduced, and transparency is increased. Could you let me know what you think of this idea?
UPDATE 14th May 2009. After the many stories in the press about MPs abusing the expenses system, I thought I’d write to Kevin Barron MP and ask his views on the excessive expenses claims of MPs.
Dear Kevin Barron,
I’ve thought a bit about this letter in case my response was just the sort of knee-jerk response the press were after – but after some consideration I feel I still need to ask some questions about how you as my representative feel about the revelations that some MPs expense claims have been excessive.
I would appreciate a response I can use on my blog as I feel this is an issue that will interest your electorate. I would also prefer a response via email – not simply so I can post it on my blog as the format makes little difference as I can easily type up or scan in your reply – but for reasons of cost and the environment which I have explained to you on several occasions.
And so to the question – a quick google search has turned up all sorts of stories about people who have been jailed for benefit fraud – for claiming money to which they were not entitled.
For example, this story http://tinyurl.com/q9wzvc is about a man from Barnsley jailed for five months for fraudulently claiming £36,000 in benefits. He had lied about the details of his living arrangements on forms he submitted in order to receive money from the public purse to which he was not entitled.
Can you explain the difference between this ‘benefit fraud’ and an MP signing an form claiming expenses that did not arise as a result of their parliamentary business? I understand the ‘Green Book’ says the following about expenses claims:
“the MP’s signature verifies that the expenditure was wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred in the performance of their duties”
To this observer both ‘benefit fraud’ and claiming expenses that were not ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred’ whilst fulfilling ones role as an MP seem to be exactly the same crime, committed in the same way – obtaining money from the state to which one isn’t entitled by lying when filling in the claim form.
Although most MPs seem to be using the defence that their claims – however excessive or immoral – were within the rules, this is simply not the case. The statement from the Green Book could not be clearer. ‘Wholly, exclusively and necessarily’ does not stretch anywhere near enough to accommodate some of the claims that have come to light.
I wonder if you could comment on the difference in the treatment of these two types of fraud? For whilst ‘benefit fraud’ is punishable by a prison sentence, it seems the punishment for expenses fraud is nothing more than a recommendation by ones party that one returns the money. Does this seem fair and just to you?
I have posted a copy of this letter on my blog at http://tinyurl.com/o83jsu I will post your reply there also, or you can comment directly on the blog if you prefer, or take up my invitation to create your own post on the blog in temporary lieu of your own website.
I would, however, like some feedback on this issue by whatever means you chose to deliver it.