I feel obliged to write the column this week on the whole issue of expenses and allowances claimed by Members of Parliament, an issue which has dominated the headlines for several weeks now.
I feel obliged to write the column this week on the whole issue of expenses and allowances claimed by Members of Parliament, an issue which has dominated the headlines for several weeks now.As taxpayers you are right to be furious that some members have clearly abused the system. It does not matter that they acted "within the rules": we all have a moral obligation to do what we know is right. First and foremost, it is our duty to remember whose money it is we are spending and to always remember who we work for, which is the people.To go some way to correcting this nightmare, David Cameron has announced immediate and far-reaching changes to the way Conservative members act, based on values of responsibility and thrift. Members of the Shadow Cabinet have, for instance, agreed to pay back expenses claims that have caused concern, and a new Scrutiny Panel will review claims by any Conservative member and decide whether any money should be paid back. Critically, no Conservative member will be permitted to 'flip' the designation of which property is his or her second home. Any change will have to be for genuine family reasons and must be approved in advance. Also, on the subject of second homes, any Conservative member selling a home for which mortgage interest is currently paid from the second home allowance, must confirm that they will pay any Capital Gains Tax due on it. David Cameron has also imposed an immediate ban on all Conservative members claiming food, shopping, furniture and other household goods (all permissible under the current system); only rent, mortgage interest, overnight hotel bills, utility bills, service charges and council tax can be claimed by Conservative members from now on. Finally, in the spirit of transparency, all claims made to the Fees Office will be published immediately online.Claims for rentAs for my own circumstances they remain pretty straightforward. I have rented my constituency home from 2001, the year I was elected your Member of Parliament. All claims for my second home allowance therefore relate to the rental and upkeep of this property. I do not profit from it because I do not own it. Clearly, under David Cameron's new rules, I will now be funding some aspects of the maintenance from my own pocket. My other expenses are all to do with me being able to carry out my duties as an MP.I believe that I have been transparent with all my affairs since becoming your MP, including everything from the employment of Sasha, my wife, (a highly qualified journalist in her own right) to my outside interests, which I maintain makes me a better politician and gives me a first hand insight into the difficulties companies are facing during these turbulent economic times. It is worth adding that my outside interests include working with numerous charitable organisations. Only last week, I was elected as a council member of the RNLI. Many of you might complain about MPs having "second jobs" but I'm afraid I am not of that view. Outside interests enable us to learn more about the rest of life and help broaden our experience, which is critical to our role at Westminster. Remember, the most common second job in politics is that of being a minister, a job where you immediately loose your independence and have to take the side of the Government rather than of the Parliament or of the people. It goes without saying that, in the event of the Conservatives winning the forthcoming General Election, and my being offered a ministerial post, my business interests would be given up.It is still unclear as to what effect all of this will have on our national politics. At the moment, the only parties that are likely to benefit are those on the fringe such as the BNP and of course UKIP. I very much hope that in the forthcoming local and European elections in June, voters will, once more, focus on the long-term policies that are being presented, rather than the unsavoury stories of abuse from the last few weeks.By Hugo Swire MPwww.hugoswire.org.uk