Scrutiny of MPs' expenses rejected

By Claire Trevett

Speaker Lockwood Smith has ruled out opening MPs' expense claims up to the public, saying members are under enough scrutiny and such measures would infringe on their private lives.

The Speaker of Britain's House of Commons, Michael Martin, is resigning amid ongoing fallout from revelations of MPs claiming expenses for things such as moat cleaning, furniture and, in two cases, for mortgages that were already paid off.

The scandal about the scope of what MPs can claim for has rocked Britain and while the information was leaked, some of it was due to be released under official information laws.

In New Zealand, information held by Ministerial Services is available under the Official Information Act, but the act does not apply to the Parliamentary Service, which administers the costs of the majority of MPs.

The previous Speaker, Margaret Wilson, had raised the apparent inconsistency, saying it would help to improve trust if expenses were scrutinised. But Dr Smith said he saw no reason to extend it to the Parliamentary Service because it involved MPs' private lives.

"I'm happy for the system to be transparent, but individual members of Parliament are under enough scrutiny as it is. What I want to make sure is no member can abuse the system."

He said the limits of what MPs could claim were public knowledge.

"We've been conscious of the need to avoid the kind of carry-on that has been exposed in the United Kingdom for some years now. "No one can claim the kind of things that can be claimed in the United Kingdom.""

Proof of actual costs had to be provided and MPs' expenses were vetted by party whips monthly. The Parliamentary Service also checked invoices and an independent committee audited the expenses annually and the Speaker could seek a spot audit.

You're jealous: British MP

- World, A22

- NZ Herald

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