Friday, 8 May 2009

A new Magna Carta would solve the "problem of MPs expenses"

Gordon Brown admitted in a radio interview this morning (conducted from his train journey north; I wonder if his usual travelling-companion Menzies Campbell was listening in?) that there were "problems" with the method of paying MPs' out-of-pocket expenses. He was responding to the revelation of his own use of the system to pay himself and his brother for cleaning in his constituency.

As Harold Macmillan used to say, problems are soluble. The simple solution to this one is to have an objectively-devised and independently-administered system.

Guido Fawkes puts it thus: "Who made the rules? MPs. Who benefits? MPs. Who decides how much they are paid? MPs. Who judges rule breakers? MPs. It is a fundamental legal principle, that you should not be a judge in your own case (“nemo debet esse iudex in propria causa”). MPs are always judging other MPs caught red handed, that is why despite huge amounts of money being embezzled, not a single MP has gone to jail."

Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time" programme yesterday dealt with Magna Carta. Although this document is now readable only by scholars, and contains the local and particular (for instance, clearing fish-weirs from the Medway, wiping out debts to Jews) as well as the constitutional, one innovatory principle rings down the years: kings do not make the law, and no king is above the law.

We are said to live in an elected dictatorship. MPs expenses would be a good place to start rolling it back.

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