MPs’ second and third homes

The Sunday Telegraph (April 12th) carries a story about “MPs earning rent while claiming home allowance”, as though this were self-evidently reprehensible.  It proceeds to list the sixty-five MPs concerned, who represent a broad spread by party, and include, from the East Midlands, our own Douglas Hogg, Alan Duncan, Tim Boswell and Andrew Robathan, as well as Quentin Davies and Keith Vaz.  The star of the list is surely James Clappison MP, who (they say) owns 22 rented properties in Yorkshire.
 
Now of course it is clear that some MPs — most notably Jacqui Smith, our accident-prone Home Secretary — have used preposterous and self-serving definitions of what constitutes a “second home”.  In the Home Secretary’s case, she has designated a small house in London shared with her sister as her primary residence, enabling her to claim her real family home, a large family house in her constituency where her children live, and her husband watches suspect movies, as her second home, and to claim accordingly.  Mrs. Smith insists that this is “within the rules” (a phrase rapidly gaining the same resonance and opprobrium as “only following orders”).  It may have been within the letter of the rules, but it was certainly not in the spirit of the rules.  By any common-sense definition, a family house in the constituency is the primary home, and a shared house in London is the second home retained necessarily to enable the MP to work in London.
 
That said, there are many more MPs who do claim within both the letter and the spirit of the rules, and these should not be subject to criticism.  Anyone required by their employer to work away from home expects the expenses of living away to be met.  We can fault the Westminster system (one of the few things we do better in Brussels, in my view, is to operate a per diem which can be used for a hotel, or for rent on a flat, or against a mortgage for those who buy), but we can scarcely fault the MP who lives within both the letter and the spirit of the rules as they stand.
 
That said, it is up to any MP who has legitimate wealth to invest his money in any asset class that appeals to him.  He can buy stocks and shares.  Or Corporate Bonds.  Or precious metals.  Or antiques and works of art.  And if he chooses, he can invest in rented property.  I cannot see how an MP’s decision to invest in property bears any relation to his proper claims for expenses for living in London to attend to his parliamentary duties.  The Sunday Telegraph article seems simply to be exploiting the current row about MPs expenses without justification.  It is no more than an opportunist smear.

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