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Thursday, April 09, 2009

A solution on MPs' second homes?

Today's Times reports on Nick Clegg's proposed solution to the way some MPs have abused the expenses system to acquire property at the taxpayers' expense. Nick says that MPs should be forced to sell their second homes and return most of the profits to the taxpayer:

Under Mr Clegg’s proposals, to be put forward at a meeting with the Labour and Conservative leaders, MPs would no longer be able to claim mortgage interest payments on expenses and would be compensated only for rental payments.

MPs who already have properties would be given 36 months before Parliament refused to fund their mortgage interest payments. MPs who then sold their second homes would be forced to return to the taxpayer a proportion of the mortgage interest they had claimed, out of the profit.

The precise formula to determine how much MPs should return has yet to be finalised, with party officials still examining how best to deal with houses in negative equity.

The Liberal Democrat leader is determined, however, to lay down the principle that MPs should not continue to profit from huge capital gains at the taxpayers’ expense. Research in 2006 by House of Commons authorities found that 485 MPs — three quarters of the total — claimed mortgage interest payments. MPs have benefited considerably from the tripling of property prices since 1997, which have pushed up the average price of a Westminster flat from £171,000 to £543,000 last year. Despite being able to claim more than £20,000 a year for mortgage interest payments, MPs can keep any profit from second home sales when they leave Parliament.

The proposals have not yet been approved by the whole Liberal Democrat parliamentary party, and are likely to be greeted with horror by many MPs.

As far as I aware Assembly Members work to different rules to MPs on accomodation and I doubt whether any of the excesses so far exposed at Westminster are being practised here in Cardiff Bay. Nevertheless, Nick's solution is one that I have advocated for the Welsh Assembly as well.

Our review of the expense system is due to be published later this year and could lead to changes in the rules for expense claims. We are already practising greater transparency than Parliament, having published a detailed breakdown of members' claims for the last two years. From the summer we intend to publish these on a monthly basis. It is hoped that this improved transparency will impose a greater discipline on members in what they claim for.

Parliament will do well to follow suit.
You take my MP she use to rent a room in the area, it was falling down and had news papers on the widows marked 1964. So she did not live in the area but hell she had a home, of course now she is buying one, but still not living here, she spends her life in London. So why not give here a council flat or a council house, same as in London, give them a council property then if they need a new kitchen that costs ten thousand pound, I' sure the local council will oblige.

Six weeks ago my window broke in my housing association bungalow, it cannot be locked , it's been wide open, I've reported it sadly we had to wait for the man to look at it, he looked at it and said yes it needs replacing, I said how long, it depends was the answer depends on what, how much money is in the kitty was the answer. I wonder would an MP get this problem
To be honest, I understand that there has to be an expense system - that much is a given. BUT, one that is morally and ethically correct. The problem here is that public confidence and trust in MP's and politics in general has been seemingly irrevocably damaged. In my mind it is reprehensible. However, Nick's suggestion would certainly go a long way to heal that damage but will not cure it. Only full accountability to the electorate and full publishing of all expenses claimed from the public purse will fully heal the damage caused by a minority of MP's who have managed, through greed and inconscionability, to bring the profession into utter disrepute.

- Richie Northcote
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