Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dishonourable Charge

'The honourable member is nicked' may soon be a phrase heard around the Westminster Village following a rule change in the Autumn that would see an end of Parliament policing itself.

There is to be an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) in the 93 pages of new rules. (What is it with the Labour Government that to make things more transparent they add page upon page of confusion?) However, there are also to be three new criminal offences.

  • Knowingly making a false claim for an allowance, maximum penalty 12 months imprisonment
  • Knowingly making a false claim for an allowance, maximum fine £5000
  • Taking money to lobby for work outside Parliament, maximum fine £5000

The legislation has won support in principle from the opposition parties although there is some concern with the vagueness of the words. For example would having received a cup of tea from a company on a visit lead to a £5000 fine if their case was taken up by the member (yeah 93 pages and the detail is grey).

Ipsa will take over the function of the Fees office, plus being able to make members pay back excesses and set rules without separate Parliamentary approval.

All in all it looks like a step in the right direction but does it go far enough to restore Parliament in the eyes of the public. There is far more that can be done to bring greater accountability, greater transparency and these are area that at the same time as these measures are being announced that the Government and the Tories appear to be trying to stifle further progress.

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