Gordon Brown announces new expenses legislation

LEGISLATION is to be rushed through Parliament to end Westminster’s system of self-regulation and impose a new code of conduct on MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal, Gordon Brown announced yesterday.

Gordon Brown

LEGISLATION is to be rushed through Parliament to end Westminster’s system of self-regulation and impose a new code of conduct on MPs in the wake of the expenses scandal, Gordon Brown announced yesterday.

MPs could be expelled from Parliament or forced to seek re-election if found guilty of gross financial misconduct by the new independent regulator.

And the Prime Minister also called for a public debate on wider reform of the democratic system, including alternative voting systems for general elections and a written constitution.

A bill to complete the final stages of Lords reform – including the removal of hereditary peers and an 80%-100% elected second chamber – will be published before the summer, but is unlikely to become law before the coming election.

Opposition parties have given their backing to independent regulation but accused Mr Brown of slow progress on constitutional reform.

Conservative leader David Cameron said the proposals were designed as a smokescreen to distract attention from the Prime Minister’s loss of authority.

And Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg urged Mr Brown to cancel the Commons’ 72-day summer break to ensure the reforms are in place by the autumn.

In a statement to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister acknowledged that public anger over expenses was threatening Parliament’s legitimacy. MPs had no more pressing task than responding to the demand for “higher standards of financial conduct from all people in public life”, he said.

“We cannot move our country forward unless we break with the old practices and the old ways,” he said. “Each of us has a part to play in the hard task of regaining the country’s trust – not for the sake of our different parties, but for the sake of our common democracy.

“Without this trust there can be no legitimacy and without legitimacy, none of us can do the job our constituents have sent us here to do.”

Mr Brown will publish a short bill before recess begins next month to establish the independent parliamentary standards regulator and put the code of conduct on a statutory basis.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jack Straw will table a separate Constitutional Renewal Bill before the summer break to implement proposals floated in draft form last year, including changes to the royal prerogative to give Parliament a greater say on issues of war and peace.

Mr Brown said that receipts for MPs’ expenses claims for the past four years will finally be published on the internet within days, and will be made public online as a matter of routine in future.

The new regulator will take over responsibility for running the expenses system from the Fees Office, check claims and apply “firm and appropriate sanctions” to anyone who breaches the rules. Mr Brown appealed to MPs for unity.

“In the midst of all the rancour and recrimination, let us seize the moment to lift our politics to a higher standard.

“In the midst of doubt, let us revive confidence,” he said.

But Mr Cameron said: “Isn’t it the case that it’s not the Alternative Vote people want right now; they want the chance to vote for an alternative Government?”

Former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett yesterday became the latest heavyweight figure to throw her hat in the ring in the race to be the next Speaker of the House of Commons.

'A back of an envelope scheme' says North East MP Peter Atkinson

GORDON Brown’s drive for radical constitutional change was yesterday branded as a "back of an envelope" scheme by the region’s only Conservative MP.

Hexham MP Peter Atkinson also defended the existing voting system for Westminster as Labour and Liberal Democrats backed a massive overhaul.

"It looks to me as if it is a back of an envelope stab at major constitutional reform," he said. "And it looks like it was just thrown together to make him look like he is hyper-active when he is under enormous pressure."

He stressed such important issues should be considered apart from expenses and needed extensive public involvement.

"The main reason is that each political party has a manifesto put to the people. If you have PR it means you go into the election promising to paint the world black but in coalition you throw it out and agree to paint the world white."

Newcastle Central MP Jim Cousins backed a change in the voting system, suggesting various models that could include multi-member constituencies.

"Moving from first past the post will cause more people to turn out because people will feel that their votes or their preference, depending on exactly how you do it, will actually count," said the Labour MP.

Ronnie Campbell, Labour MP for Blyth Valley, backed the creation of an independent Parliamentary standards authority.

Senior Lib Dem Newcastle councillor Greg Stone said: "Clearly, elements of that package are things that the Lib Dems have been talking about for a very long time."


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