MPs finances are under the spotlight again as Commons Speaker John Bercow made a bid to block the release of documents which could expose MPs exploiting a property letting loophole.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is currently considering a Freedom of Information request to release details of which MPs are letting their second homes to other MPs. While this practice is allowed, it means that one MP could let their second home to a fellow MP then rent out another property. Who pays the rent on the second rented property? Yep, you guessed it — the taxpayer.
While IPSA initially banned MPs from letting properties to their family, business associates or other parties in which they have an interest, the rules were later clarified to allow one MP to rent from another. Essentially, it gives MPs the opportunity to build up a property portfolio at the expense of the taxpayer. But them's the rules, right? Well, yes, but it appears our illustrious leaders have learned precisely nothing from the previous government-wrecking expenses scandal. Lest we forget, in 2009, the Telegraph published copies of MPs expenses which revealed (amongst other things) claims for an ornamental duck house, horse poo, and, quelle surprise, mortgage payments for one property while renting out another. Many of the expense claims back then were allegedly made according to the rules. It didn't end well.
John Bercow believes that releasing the details would constitute a security risk for the MPs involved, but his attempt to block the publication has been criticised as a 'cover-up'. The Telegraph has identified some of the 27 MPs who are renting homes in London at the same time as claiming rental income for other properties. As anyone familiar with the previous expenses scandal will remember, the Speaker at the time, Lord Martin, was forced to resign after a similar attempt to block the release of similar information. Unsurprisingly, the reaction to this latest bit of parliamentary loophole-dodging is fairly damning.
Some MPs have already issued statements — Conservative MP Peter Luff says on his website that IPSA's own rules mean he is forced to let his London flat out while renting another. Lib Dem MP Nick Harvey told the BBC:
"Unfortunately the new system of MPs expenses means that I cannot live in my own house and I'm driven to renting a flat nearby."
Arguments which we're sure will go down well with the many Londoners trapped in the shit sandwich of unaffordable house prices and stratospheric private rents. Not to mention the government cuts which squeeze us till we squeak. David Cameron hasn't been slow to distance himself from another brewing scandal, saying via a spokesperson that the PM is committed to transparency but ultimately, 'it's a matter for IPSA'.
Photo by anonphotography in the Londonist Flickr pool.