Expenses Proposals Get Watered Down

(Telegraph) – MPS WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED for failing to declare their financial interests with a new watchdog — set up in the wake of the expenses scandal.

It is the latest climb-down by ministers who are desperately scrambling to get the new proposals in place before Parliament closes down for its long summer recess next week.

It has led some. including Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, to accuse the main parties of blocking attempts to clean up the Commons after the disclosures by The Daily Telegraph.

Baroness Royall, the Leader of the Lords, backed down yesterday in the face of opposition from peers to key parts of the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

She removed a section from the Bill that would have created an offence of failing to comply with the register of financial interests that will be maintained by new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which is being created by the new Bill to take the running of expenses out of the hands of the Commons.

New criminal offences are also being brought in to apply to MPs, as Gordon Brown attempts to show he is trying to reform the system.

However, even before yesterday’s move in the Lords, ministers had already agreed to remove IPSA’s role in enforcing the allowances or financial conduct regime and the offence of paid advocacy.

Lady Royall did reject moves to take out the offence of an MP making a claim for an allowance using ‘false or misleading’ information; but said the Government had given ground on other parts of the Bill because ministers had ‘recognised the strength of feeling’ expressed by peers.

The slew of concessions means the plans are now so watered-down from the original proposals that some are questioning their value as a suitable response to the expenses scandal.

MPs in the Commons have already succeeded in voting down some key parts of the Bill which is being rushed through by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary.

Yesterday Mr Straw said that despite the MPs’ expenses scandal, Westminster was ‘very clean and transparent’ compared to politics in many other countries or to the democratic system of previous decades.

He accepted that the expenses row following disclosures by The Daily Telegraph had been ‘profoundly damaging’ for Parliament; but said that politicians in other countries looked on in amazement at the controversy caused in the UK by sums of ‘a few thousand pounds.’

Giving evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Mr Straw also made the surprising statement that Winston Churchill would not have survived the scrutiny MPs are now exposed to.

… (21/07/2009) – New Law Passed To Clean-Up Parliament

… (TimesOnline, 24/08/2009) – MPs hijack expenses enquiry

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