Friday, 16 October 2009

Retrospective? I think not...

I'm quite surprised to see that even normally intelligent sources such as the Spectator are still continuing to claim that the Legg conclusions are based on a retrospective re-interpretation.

As Tory Bear pointed out, there is and always has been an explicit statement in the MPs' expenses guide, that all expenses must be

"wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purposes of carrying out their duties as an MP."
That is, of course, the proper reason for any expenses claim in any other field.

Legg has merely placed a upper figure on what can be considered wholly, exclusively and necessary for the duties of an MP, which makes clear sense if you think about it for a brief moment. It may well be necessary to clean a second home, but it is clearly unnecessary to clean it on the hour, every hour. Therefore there must be an upper limit, and (frankly) Legg's limit seems quite generous.

So, to use TB's phrase, stop whining and get out the chequebook.


  1. Why does no one point out that the fees office was knowingly manipulated by the Whips? If an MP was in favour or high up in the hierarchy, their expense claims were waved through. However, if an MP upset the Whips, a quiet word was had and the next expense claim was rejected and/or limited. Bribery and corruption comes to mind in the mother of all parliaments.

    I think MPs have escaped lightly but what have most got to lose at this stage? Unless they flipped homes and escaped CGT, of course. Even the ECHR is unlikely to be on their side in my opinion. You are right, Patently.

  2. While I loathe what's gone on, I don't entirely agree here. The retrospective caps do not follow of logical necessity from "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purposes of carrying out their duties as an MP." Indeed, it might even be felt that a one size fits all retrospective cap is logically at odds with the statement as laid out in the rules. If so, then in addition to the legal difficulties, what Legg is proposing may well be unjust pure and simple.

    However much we may want to get our own back on the MPs, we degrade ourselves if we do so unjustly. And the last state becomes worse than the first.

  3. Quite correct, two wrongs do not make a right, Albert. We must listen to and consider their representations and it has been indicated that this will be done. Retrospective legislation is akin to living in Zimbabwe, which we do not, thank goodness.

    However, surely only so much can be claimed under wholly, exclusively and necessary (with the emphasis on necessary) after which it should be regarded as extortion (illegal exaction)? Legg's report imposes limits on these claims and as far as I am unaware these have not been publicly challenged as unreasonably low. Furthermore, if your employer or bank inadvertentedly overpays you, you are expected to pay it back. The way I would look at it is that certain MPs have been overpaid unless they are able to show the amounts they were paid were wholly, exclusively and necessary for them to undertake their work. I do not know details of their grievances, except for stating they have been paid and it is unfair to pay it back. On closer examination I think this alone is not enough justification to let them keep exceptional amounts of our money albeit I agree it should have been paid to them in the first place.

  4. The way I would look at it is that certain MPs have been overpaid unless they are able to show the amounts they were paid were wholly, exclusively and necessary for them to undertake their work.

    That is the key here measured. The issue should not be whether or not they exceeded an arbitrarily and arguably unauthorized retrospective cap, but whether their expenses were "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the purposes of carrying out their duties as an MP." If they were, and there was no rule to say otherwise, then why should they be clawed back? if they weren't then why should they keep them even if they do fall below the arbitrary cap?

    Once we start applying such retrospectiveness to them, will they apply retrospectiveness to us with all their usual thoroughness?

    A further problem here is that the scapegoat mechanism is preventing any serious public evaluation of this.

  5. I am annoyed I missed out 'not' in the penultimate line. :-(

  6. Measured, Ah, now that makes sense! :-)

  7. Albert, HMRC apply retrospectiveness to taxpayers and welfare benefits are clawed back if overpaid. However, I agree with you that Legg's limits are arbitrary within a defined range but they are weighted in MPs' favour. It may be a scapegoat mechanism. It is in their own interests to cough up unless they have good justification not to do so; I can't see any, but reasons of avarice and greed come to mind.

  8. HMRC apply retrospectiveness to taxpayers

    Measured, if that's correct it doesn't make it right. But I wonder if the cases are parallel, in what way do they apply retrospectiveness?

  9. What comes to mind is that taper relief can be altered or what losses one can carry forward to offset cgt. They can rule on the deemed purpose of a transaction in the light of new regulations. Watch out!

  10. No wonder "tax-collector" is synonymous with "sinner" in the Bible. (No wonder too that the clergy of the day were offended when Jesus told them that the tax-collectors and prostitutes would enter heaven before they did (Mt.21.31) :-D .)

  11. I, for one, have been working very hard for my constituents over the last 82 days recess. Even when I was in the Maldives and Bermuda on the beach I had my Blackberry, and CNN was on in the hotel bar.. Its all work you know.
    Now, this jumped up civil servant says I have to repay money for gardening and housekeeping!

    I mean who hasn't got a Filipino couple living in the summer house? Gardner and maid are essential to an MP's ability to perform duties.
    Does this fool think the lawn will mow itself while I'm away.

    Its all too much. Much too much.

  12. Measured - that could be quite a scoop. You need evidence, I think.

    Albert - Your point is not unreasonable, but Legg has not demanded repayment. He has asked for an explanation.

    I do think it quite reasonable to set a threshold above which it seems unlikely that an expenses claim can be considered "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred", and to request an explanation as to how or why it is.

    Of course, if an MP could explain why £14,000 worth of cleaning bills were "wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred", then he should keep the money. If he cannot, then he must accept that he has overclaimed.

    Now, some might say that this veers onto "he who has nothing to fear has nothing to hide" territory, in requiring a full explanation of past conduct. I doubt, however, that it would be just for the MPs of our ruling party to rely on that particular defence, though.

    >>> Its all too much. Much too much.

    I think your constituents would agree with you there, Bill ;-)

  13. Yes, I was thinking about this afterwards. Maybe quasi retrospective as they close loopholes which makes one's tax planning go all awry! I think I may back down on this occasion. ;-)

  14. Patently, I agree entirely with that. Indeed, if adequate explanations are not forthcoming, then they should be required to pay the money back, because they have violated the original rules. Though we're still left with the odd situation in which those with dishonest claims below the cap can keep the money. I suppose we may just have to accept that in such a screwed up and corrupt system is it simply too administratively cumbersome to clean the whole system.

  15. Albert - our recourse in that instance is via the ballot box.

  16. Do general elections still happen in this country then? I thought they'd been abolished.

  17. :-D Feels like that sometimes, and (yes) New Labour have purportedly given themselves the power to postpone an election indefinitely.

  18. Returning to our earlier discussion on Cameron and the referendum, there's an interesting comment here: