Press release 19th Apr 2009

MPs Expenses: Stopping the Rot

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Recent revelations about irregularities in MPs’ expense claims grievously undermine the legitimacy of Parliament. They raise doubts in the public mind over the motives of our parliamentarians. Regarding the UK’s parliamentarians as a body of honest and trustworthy men and women who act in the public interest, rather than for personal gain, is becoming increasingly difficult. Without trust in Parliament, democracy is tarnished and voter apathy encouraged. 

19 April 2009 - Official enquiries into individual cases must establish urgently whether the rules have been broken. But it is already evident from media reports that some MPs have tended to exploit the rules on expenses claims. That fuels the widespread and growing public perception that the UK Parliament is corrupt – a perception that is confirmed by findings from Transparency International’s most recent Global Corruption Barometer1. They show that political corruption in the UK is considered to be on the increase.

Rebuilding public trust can only be done if politicians are beyond reproach, living up to the Nolan Principles of Public Life - Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.

Transparency International (UK) believes it is particularly worrying that a lax ethical environment has allowed some MPs to make poor decisions without stopping to think whether they were doing the right thing. There needs to be a culture in which both the spirit and letter of the law are obeyed. It is surprising to see some MPs and commentators writing this off as a minor drama about insignificant sums of money. They miss the point: if MPs are to have legitimacy as lawmakers, they need to be exemplars of personal integrity.

On the positive side, the Committee on Standards in Public Life has been asked to review the system of MPs’ expense claims and recommend reforms. Transparency International (UK) welcomes this, but would be happier to see the Committee submit its report no later than the summer recess rather than the end of the year.

Transparency International (UK) is calling for five reforms to the system for MPs’ expenses:

  • A new set of independently-approved and unambiguous expenses rules – to eliminate grey areas and the potential for abuse.
  • Tighter and independent auditing of expense claims – particularly in controversial areas such as second homes and the employment of relatives.
  • Inbuilt transparency – to allow information of the type that has recently come to light to be freely – and routinely – available to the public.
  • Suspension from Parliament of any MP who has violated new rules on expenses once they are introduced.
  • Training for MPs to help them understand the rules for claiming expenses.
  1. Transparency International has been researching the issue of political corruption since 2003. Its Global Corruption Report  focused on defining and quantifying political corruption and issued seven recommendations for reform. 
  2. A summary of the seven Nolan Principles can be found here