Speaker Michael Martin has launched an inquiry into MP expenses. The inquiry will be conducted by 3 MPs -Sir Stuart Bell, David MacLean, and Nick Harvey – and will be “a root and branch review” (Speaker Martin can never resist a cliche) of the system. However, what this review will achieve is open to question when we look at the backgrounds of the review committee for some of these names have appeared in this LJ before.
Both MacLean and Bell voted in favour of the third reading of MacLean’s Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill – which was intended to exclude MPs (and their expense claims as I noted last May) from the freedom of information regime. Others who voted in favour included the Wintertons (now caught in their own wholly legal but politically problematic difficulties), Nick Brown, blogging MP Tom Watson, and Ian McCartney. And despite a number of voting against including various Lib Dems, George Galloway, a Plaid MP, and an unlikely mix of COnservatives (including Richard Shepherd and John Redwood) and Labour MPs (including Jeremy Corbyn, Frank Field, and David Winnick) – the third member of the expenses review team Lib Dem Nick Harvey did not vote.
I also noted last year those MPs that supported this block extended far beyond those that formally voted for the third reading. During the debate last year there were three closure motions (which is highly unusual). And as I pointed out at the time a number of those who voted to close the debate did not participate in the third reading vote (thus avoiding the bad publicity of voting in favour of MP secrecy). Among those who voted in favour of the closure motion were Bell and MacLean (who at least voted in the third reading and thus make their position clear on the record) – as well as some who skulked off including Ed Balls, Bridget Prentice (who was very vocal in the debate but did not vote at third reading), Joan Ruddock, and current Home Secretary JAcqui (no relation of Linda) Smith.
The presence of certain key Brown allies (Nick Brown, Balls, Smith) suggests where Brown’s sympathies lay, and the fact that none of those who voted against the bill (which had the tacit support of the Speaker’s office – given that there were three closure motions voted on) have found their way onto the inquiry committee, but the promoter of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill and one key supporter have, warrants treating the impartiality of this review with cynicism.