Friday, 21 March 2008

Nero fiddled....

Derek Conway, the disgraced former Conservative MP, will escape a police investigation into his conduct after the Crown Prosecution Service ruled that gaping holes in the records of MPs' expenses would make bringing charges impossible.

In a move that will intensify the pressure on MPs to tighten their system of expenses and office allowances, Scotland Yard announced last night it would not be "appropriate" to launch an investigation into Conway after being advised by the CPS that "the lack of systems in this case to account for MPs' expenses would severely undermine the viability of any criminal investigation leading to a prosecution".

The Metropolitan police statement added: "In these circumstances we do not believe that it is appropriate for a police investigation to be instigated."

The gaps in the parliamentary scrutiny drew immediate criticism and calls for wholesale reform. Martin Bell, the former BBC journalist who was elected to parliament on an anti-sleaze ticket in 1997, told the Guardian: "This shows the need for external regulation. This has happened again and again and again.

"Anyone who has tried to make MPs more accountable - from Elizabeth Filkin to Alistair Graham [both former Commons sleaze watchdogs] - has been removed. We are in a state of constitutional crisis. MPs are supposed to set an example to the rest of us and yet they think there is one rule for them and another for the rest of us."


Anonymous said...

The Commons has launched a last ditch bid to block publication of detailed expenses of 14 MPs and ex MPs including Gordon Brown and David Cameron.

The Commons authorities had been expected to release details of second home expenses later on Tuesday after a Freedom of Information tribunal ruling.

But they have launched an appeal against the ruling on the grounds it could compromise MPs' security.

The FOI ruling last month follows a three year battle to stop publication.

The Commons authorities had until 1600 GMT on Thursday to launch an appeal, which they have now done.

Anonymous said...

The House of Commons Commission, chaired by the Speaker, was today due to release the details of how MPs spend their £23,000 second home allowance. Their lawyer told them there were no grounds for a High Court appeal.

Instead of complying with the Freedom of Information request - affirmed by a Tribunal last month - the Speaker found a new lawyer.

This new second great legal mind - perhaps tempted by the prospect of a fat great fee paid by the taxpayer? - said they could see grounds for appeal and took the case on. Quel surprise. Now the public will foot a hefty bill, probably running into six figures, for a High Court appeal which the Speaker's original lawyer said they couldn't win.

The decision was taken after the Commission met informally this morning with 20 minutes notice. Not everyone made it to the meeting.

There is a further twist. MPs wanted to prevent publication because it forces them to disclose their home addresses (already available on the electoral register, and only asked for because some MPs had put their holiday homes down as their "additional home"). The vast majority were not trying to stop the details of their expenses being published. Even the Commission said last week that the principle had been conceeded.

However the Commission's new lawyer is now challenging the entire decision - rather than just the ruling about addresses - claiming the entire judgement by the Freedom of Information Tribunal was "misdrected". The High Court challenge aims to scupper the entire judgement.

Asked if there was any recognition that this desperate bid to keep their expenses secret may look bad, a source close to the deliberations said: "No".

Continue reading "Why don't MPs understand it looks worse when they try and hide things" »

Sam Coates