Let me risk public anger and the wrath of tax-payers by saying an unfashionable word in defence of Westminster MPs.
Much of what they did in the big expenses scandal was, of course, indefensible. I personally was shocked by the “flipping” of homes to maximise allowances. It seems to me that any allowance should be solely for the purpose of enabling an MP to stay overnight in London to perform his or her parliamentary duties, which is why I believe a simple overnight allowance, equivalent to the cost of a medium-quality hotel room, would have been fair and reasonable, and would have prevented all the expenses nonsense we have seen.
But the fact is that they had a system in place. It was a flawed system. It needed (and needs) radical reform. But nonetheless, the rules were the rules at the time.
Now it seems that Sir Thomas Legg is writing to MPs to put in place retrospective limits on the amounts that he feels it was reasonable to claim under various headings, and demanding the return of claims paid in excess of those limits. This is outrageous and flies in the face of natural justice. You cannot set up an official system, and then retrospectively penalise those who claimed within the letter and spirit of the rules. It would be equivalent to the government deciding that tax rates were too low in 2008, and sending you a retrospective demand for more money, or your employer deciding that your salary had been too high over the past five years and asking for the return of tens of thousands of pounds.
By all means let’s reform the system, and put in place a fairer and simpler régime for the future. I think that many MPs would weep tears of gratitude for a fair, simple and transparent system which would free them from the risk of public opprobrium. But let’s not make retrospective demands for the return of money properly claimed. This is an affront to natural justice.
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