PRESS RELEASE - Thursday 14th May, 2009
Today Mark Thomas, political activist, commentator, performer, writer and comedian has instructed his lawyers, Leigh Day & Co to write to the Speaker of the House of Commons threatening legal action unless a full transparent review is urgently ordered into the scandal of MPs expenses.
Mr Thomas has been advised that the approach peddled by MPs in the press that their unreasonable expenses are within the rules is not correct. In fact, the current scandal has been largely caused by attempts by many MPs to stretch the rules far beyond their ordinary meaning and an unwillingness by the House of Commons Department of Finance and Administration officials to rein them in.
The letter requires Speaker Martin, as Chair of the House of Commons Commission to take urgent steps to commence a review of the Department’s actions in dealing with MPs’ applications for expenses. The following steps are set down as the bare minimum requirements:
- To obtain and publish independent authoritative legal advice & guidance on the meaning of the MPs’ expenses rules, to be consistent with other guidance applicable to the public where similar words are used
- To appoint independent accountants to audit all claims by MPs in the current parliament against the legal advice and guidance obtained
- To consider auditing all claims by MPs back to May 1997, applying consistent principles which would be applied in cases of false/ excessive claims against other public authorities or the HMRC
- To explain publicly what sums have been wrongly paid out to members and to set out proposals for recoupment where overpayments have been made, such recoupment to be no more favourable to MPs than the system for recovery of benefits overpayments or income tax underpayments
- To report possibly fraudulent claims to the Metropolitan Police fraud squad for investigation.
The Speaker has been given 14 days to respond, failing which Judicial Review proceedings may follow.
Mark Thomas said:
“MPs are not above the law. If they have wrongly claimed expenses they should be made to repay. If they have acted fraudulently the police should be involved. This is what would happen to all of us as members of the public if we tried to fiddle public money.
Fraudulent benefit claimants are not allowed to form committees comprised of benefit claimants to investigate their misdemeanours. Nor can exposed tax cheats offer to pay back money because they are ‘concerned about how it looks to the outside world’ and then walk away with no repercussion.
If I need to go to court I will be making a public appeal to cover the legal costs of the case, which I’m sure will have overwhelming support! ”
Richard Stein, partner at Leigh Day & Co said:
“The main problem here is not the rules governing payment of MPs’ expenses, but how they have been applied. Many MPs have made claims which do not properly fall within the rules. The rules say that MPs have a responsibility to satisfy themselves that expenditure claimed has been ‘wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred’ for the
purpose of performing their Parliamentary duties and that overspent or mischarged amounts may be recovered. The House of Commons authorities must now take steps to make sure this happens”