MP Expenses: A Threat to Democracy

Harriet Harman today outlined three new offences targeting false claims, registering interests and payments to MPs for raising issues in Parliament.
She also announced the establishment of an Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) to run MPs’ expenses.

While many of the reforms are to be welcomed, there is one that sets a very dangerous precedent. The IPSA will have powers to expel Members of Parliament for breaches of the code. This is fundamentally wrong and needs to be rethought.

Send MP’s to prison for illegal acts, yes, but the only people who should be allowed to expel members of Parliament are their constituents. Perhaps the House authorities should advocate a recall system whereby local constituents, in sufficient numbers to sign a new the necessary petition, could trigger a vote on whether the MP should be forced to stand down, thereby causing a by-election.

Any system that allows unelected officials to remove elected representatives is fundamentally and democratic. Any system where the political majority can exclude a minority party or individual could result in decisions being made that are fundamentally undermine democracy and the relationship of a Member of Parliament with her or his constituency.