David Laws: breaking the rules saved the taxpayer £30,000

Six quick thoughts on the David Laws Parliamentary expenses ruling:

a. He broke the rules and it’s right that he is being censured for that.

b. The level of punishment is much stricter than handed out in cases in the previous Parliament. It’s a highly inconsistent form of justice – with a case such as that of Jacqui Smith having been treated mucy more leniently. If the new Standards and Privileges Committee decided that after the general election it is going to take a new approach to breaches of the rule, that would have got overwhelming support – but it’s a basic principle of justice that if you are going to change the rules, you say so in advance rather than it coming out as part of your ruling.

c. The reputation of the Standards Committee should be in tatters because, aside from it’s badly handled change of approach, someone on it has been leaking. The committee has a semi-judicial role, yet one of its members has been leaking confidential information to the press. From the report that was sent to MPs and which we can all see, it’s clear that the leaks were based on a copy of the report which was only sent to MPs on the committee rather than on the investigation more generally (which more people were privy to). If a jury or a local government committee leaked information like that there would be all sorts of calls for action (and with juries the police get called in). MPs should not treat themselves differently.

d. If you put paragraphs 36, 325 and the evidence together the picture is that if David Laws had been open about his relationship, properly designated his main and secondary homes and claimed the allowances within the rules, he would have ended up being paid £30,000 more than he actually was. Breaking the rules and ending up poorer as a result is still wrong, but it is very different from trying to make money out of the taxpayer in the way other rule breakers did.

e. The Commissioner concluded: “I have no evidence that Mr. Laws made his claims with the intention of benefiting himself or his partner in conscious breach of the rules … I have no reason to doubt that Mr. Laws’ primary motivation was to keep secret the sexuality that he had hidden”.

f. Hence, he shouldn’t return to government imminently, but a return later in the year would be appropriate (and, given his talents) welcome.

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