The Sunlight Centre has today called for MPs to comply with the Sir Thomas Legg inquiry into use of the accommodation allowance and pay back money that was wrongfully claimed for the maintenance of second homes.
In particular, we have written to Jacqui Smith MP whom, you might remember, we referred to the Paraliamentary Commissioner for Standards and against whom we began the process of a private prosecution a little while ago. Smith has been asked to "apologise" for her misuse of over £100,000 of public money between 2004 and 2009. In our letter, we demand that she at least pay back the £42,130 that was most blatantly claimed in contravention of the rules, and if she doesn’t – well, evidence-gathering for the prosecution is already underway.
But Smith isn’t the only one. Having conducted a full audit of use of the biggest personal expense that MPs receive, Legg has concluded that over 300 MPs either still have some explaining to do or need to pay back cash to the public purse. Sir Stuart Bell has led the MP cry against these reasonable demands, claiming that Legg has exceeded his remit or "moved the goalposts".
It was never going to be easy to claw back money from MPs who should never have claimed it in the first place, but it is still tiring to hear the same old line repeated that it was "within the rules" at the time, or that MPs have done nothing wrong.
It’s true, the Green Book did not give MPs line by line instructions over what to do if their lawn needed re-seeding. But common sense might suggest that this was not appropriate use of the accommodation allowance and MPs whining now that it’s unfair for them to have to pay back money spent on lavish redecorations or topiary trimming need to get a grip on reality. Let’s repeat it again slowly, shall we? Expenses are allowable for those costs "INCURRED WHOLEY, NECESSARILY, AND EXCLUSIVELY" in the performance of parilamentary duties. Last we checked, that didn’t include pet food, lawn mowers, or tree-planting.