MPs need to be able to do their jobs.
They get paid a very substantial salary – even if the MP is the only employed adult in the household, even if they have four children under 13 and a huge council tax bill, £64K still puts them into the top 20%. They can well afford to pay for their own meals: subsistence allowance should not be payable.
Have some experience of something other than political work. All parties should have a basic guideline: to pass for selection, a prospective candidate has to have spent a minimum of five years since they left full-time education doing something that has no direct connection with party political work.
Not that this will necessarily save us from the likes of Iain Duncan Smith or Chris Grayling. But right now the most direct way for someone who wants to become an MP someday to get there is to head into party politics as soon after leaving Oxbridge as they can. Oh yeah, and getting to go to Oxbridge also helps.
So herewith my seven-point plan for fixing the gravy train that is MP expenses… by the same means used for years to ensure that a person receiving an unemployment benefit or a work perk in a normal job doesn’t use it as a gravy train.
They should be living in their constituency. The main reason this doesn’t happen is because (see point one) the current system favors party promotion of candidates who have no living connection to the constituency which they’d be representing. A candidate who wants to represent a constituency should already be living there.
If they’re not, for whatever reason, fine, they can claim a one-off hardship grant, means-tested for their and their spouse’s income, to help towards the costs of moving there.
They should be able to maintain a constituency office. For this, they should be able to claim a grant, paid quarterly to their constituency office, for reasonable running costs. The office will have to be able to show an auditor what has been spent and how, and any other sources of income to the constituency office must be clearly declared: any underspend must be returned at the end of the year. All of this must be made publicly available information, readily available to anyone.
None of this will be paid directly to the MP.
They should have somewhere to stay near Parliament. I think the perfect solution to this would be four big tower blocks, five minutes walk from Whitehall, each with 162 or 163 flats. Purpose-built, fully-accessible, with shared facilities in the basement like a laundrette and maybe a gym or even a canteen. MPs with London constituencies get the studio flats, which are just a place with a bed and a shower – a place to crash or somewhere private to go and scream. MPs who live within commuting distance from London get a flat with a bedroom, kitchen, and sitting-room, that lets them stay comfortably overnight if they need to. MPs with constituencies more than an hour’s commute by train from London get the family flats, with a spare room for guests. There could be big conference suites on each floor that can be booked for meetings or events. Space in these blocks is assigned randomly and according to need, not by party affiliation, which would encourage nice cross-party harmony about getting their laundry done: an MP gets their flat assigned when they win an election, and they lose it when they lose their seat.
This strikes me as long-term a perfectly good, practical solution, but in the short-term – if an MP has claimed on their expenses to pay the mortgage on a place to live, either in London or in their constituency, that place then belongs to the nation who paid for it, not to the MP, and it can be assigned to a new MP when the previous MP loses their seat.
They should be able to hire staff. Or rather, they shouldn’t. An MP who needs staff should notify the MPs human resources department (which doesn’t exist, but should), which will set in train the recruitment process. All posts should be openly advertised and paid at a standard civil service rate – no unpaid “interns” permitted, no volunteers except in the constituency office where there is a budget for compensating volunteers for travel and subsistence, on production of receipts
The hiring process should be carried out by the MP’s HR department, whether the staffer is working in Westminster or in the constituency, and the MP should be involved only as one member of the interview panel. MP’s staff should be encouraged to join the appropriate union and should be able to discuss problems at work with the MPs HR department, staffed by civil servants.
They should be able to travel. Each MP should on election receive a “Superpass” – which allows the MP and one other person accompanying them to travel anywhere on public transport in the UK at no charge. (MPs with a disability that requires a helper may have their Superpass extended to allow for the helper plus the additional person.) This “Superpass” applies only to the MP and cannot be used by anyone else without the MP’s immediate presence. If the MP’s constituency is more than an hour’s commute from London, the MP’s partner receives a “Spousepass” that enables him or her to travel free by public transport between the constituency and London and in Zone 1 and 2 of the London Transport System, but cannot be used for public transport elsewhere. Both the Superpass and the “Spousepass” can have any or all of the dependent children of their household endorsed on it, under the age of 16.
If the MP or their family want to go places by plane, taxi, ship, car, or hovercraft, they’ll just have to pay for it out of the MP’s own ginormous salary. [Exceptions can be made for travel to and from the MP’s constituency where even the sleeper train won’t get an MP to their constituency for the weekend: and for family emergencies.] Misuse of the Superpass or the Spousepass will lead to having this benefit cut off for weeks on a first offense and for steadily-increasing periods of time for each additional offense.
Overseas trips where the Superpass won’t help? Show justification that it’s necessary to their work as an MP, keep receipts, and get agreed expenses repaid on showing of receipts, on return to UK.
Everyone else has to hang on to receipts if they want to be paid back for meals they bought or transport costs: why shouldn’t MPs?
Other ways of an MP earning money? Any additional income must be reported, and an MP’s salary will be reduced pound-for-pound of the additional earnings: MPs are only allowed to earn £15 more than their current salary and only allowed to do 15 hours unpaid work a week besides their regular work as an MP.
This will be monitored by HMRC, and any unpaid work or overspend will have to be paid back out of the MP’s salary or future salary after the MP loses their seat. So an MP who “accidentally” fails to declare a source of income, could end up being underpaid for a number of years.
Iain Duncan Smith and David Cameron should welcome this system. They claim that it’s all about fairness, right?