It appears that MPs who feel that they have been harshly dealt with by the Legge Inquiry and told to pay back expenses fraudulently or mistakenly claimed are going to be given an appeal procedure. I don’t think that this is unreasonable; as long as it is scrupulously fair and open in its dealings, and that Thomas Legge has the right of re-appeal should he think that his findings have been swept under the mat unreasonably.
According to an article in The Times the MPs that wish to contest must do so in writing by December 14, stating the “special reasons” why they should not pay. The appeals will be heard (or rather read, as there will be no appearance before the arbiter), by a former Lord Justice of Appeal, Paul Kennedy, who is, of course, a barrister.
The decision to do this has been taken by the Members’ Estimates Committee, but will face a Commons vote before it can come into being.
The MEC also agreed that members who refuse to pay will have the money that Legge has designated overpayment deducted from salary or future allowances/expenses. So, the MPs who were flatly refusing to pay on the basis that they thought they had been harshly treated and were in any case going to stand down at the next election, have found that avenue of escape cut off.
The Times reports as follows:
“The MEC expects that Members will voluntarily repay any sums found to have been over claimed but it will propose that, if necessary, the money be recovered by setting off sums owed against future payments of allowances and/or salary,” it said.
“Before this happens, however, the Committee believes MPs should be given an opportunity to show in an independent process any special reasons why it would not be fair or equitable in their particular case to require them to make the repayments.
“This process is designed to reflect the opportunity an individual would have in legal proceedings to show why he or she should not be required to make restitution.
“That opportunity is not available to Members in this case because of parliamentary privilege.”
Well it all seems fair enough to me. Someone accused of incorrectly underpaying taxes has the right of appeal, but if they lose the appeal they have to make restitution. The same can be said about a person who has been overpaid benefit through no fault of their own.
Of course, people who deliberately fiddle their taxes or their benefits are treated entirely differently. They do not pass "Go". They just head straight for jail.
Still, it’s better than nothing.