Do We Allow Power to Corrupt?

Earlier this year Joris Lammers published a paper

Through five compelling experiments, Lammers has shown that powerful people are more likely to behave immorally but paradoxically less likely to tolerate immorality in other people. Even thinking about the feeling of power can trigger these double standards.

The experiments

For each experiment the participants were first manipulated into feeling either powerful or powerless through role play and suggestion. Some of the experiments involved playing a game with dice in which it was possible to cheat, others involved making series of moral decisions about whether it was ok for other people to break minor laws and whether it was ok for the participant themself to do so.

The results showed that those who felt powerful were far more likely to cheat and allow themselves to break the law, but they were also more judgmental of others doing so. Those who felt powerless reacted in the opposite manner, having higher expectations of themselves than of others.

A fuller account of the experiment

The original publication, costs $35

What is important to note here is that this difference isn’t really anyone’s fault – politicians defrauding their country out of thousands of pounds or starting wars for personal gain, corporations calculating whether it is cheaper to recall a dangerous product or pay compensation, even a boss who blames his staff for his own mistakes – these acts are not a sign of innate evil, they are the automatic effect that power has on the brain. This means there is little point in simply replacing the corrupt, powerful people because as soon as the new people take their place they too will start to see things differently, will start to see themselves as above the law.

In order to combat this it is necessary that the legal system is totally fair and that both the powerless and powerful are seen as equal. The important must be reminded that they do not have special rights.

So in this blog I want to investigate whether the powerful are party to the same legal system as the rest of us.

To narrow down the investigation I have chosen what I believe to be three of the most powerful groups in the UK: the government, the press and corporate power

MP fraudsters and Benefit Fraudsters

In 2009 was the MP expenses scandal, which was

a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. (Wikipedia)

As a response to this the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was set up to monitor the actions of MPs. The rules that they imposed were declared as scandalous and vindictive by MPs, although most of the rules would be considered normal by non-MPs, for example having to use public transport before 11pm. It was also decided that MPs would only have 85% of their phone calls paid for, to which former Labour minister Tom Harris said

“[this]so mindbogglingly unfair and ridiculous, you get the impression that Ian Kennedy, its chair, invented it for a joke, just to see how long it took for us to notice”.

One MP said

“We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grill?”

I do not believe they are being treated like benefit claimants, but in order to see if politicians are subject to the same laws as the rest of us, I am going to use the governments own guidelines for those who commit benefit fraud and see how the results compare with what actually happened.

Some initial facts

  • The annual salary of an MP is £65,738 as of 1 April 2010
  • Cabinet ministers receive a salary of £134,565 (including MP’s salary of £65,738).
  • MPs can claim allowances to cover, for example, staff costs, travel expenses and the cost of running an office. They cannot claim for luxuries, what constitutes a luxury is clearly defined.
  • Opposition parties get extra money to help them carry out their parliamentary business. This is known as ‘Short Money’.

Details of what expenses are allowed for MPs here

Benefit Fraud Guidelines

The guidelines for benefit fraud are fairly straightforward. For anyone claiming less than £5000 fraudulently a prison sentence is rare, so I will be focussing on MPs who claimed more than that. The sentences for benefit fraud are for “amounts obtained or intended to be obtained”, so any attempt at claiming by an MP is considered serious. Many of the MPs claims are “fraudulent from outset”, but a few involve claiming for a mortgage legally and then paying off the mortgage but still claiming the money, which is “not fraudulent from the outset”.

Regarding the politicians who have promised to pay back some money, while this would be looked on favourably in a court it would not stop fraudulent benefit claimants from going to prison if the amounts were sufficient.

 

£100,000 or more and less than £500,000

£20,000 or more and less than £100,000

Starting point based on: £60,000*

£5,000 or more and less than £20,000

Starting point based on: £12,500*

Fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:2-4 years custody

Starting point:2 years custody

Range:18 weeks-30 months custody

Starting point:12 weeks custody

Range:Community order (HIGH)-12 months custody

Not fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:12 months-3 years custody

 

Starting point:15 months custody

Range:12 weeks-18 months custody

 

Starting point:6 weeks custody

Range:Community order (MEDIUM)-26 weeks custody

 

*The “starting point” can be used as an additional guideline for sentencing, so when the money claimed fraudulently is higher than this amount I have used the “starting point” sentence as the minimum.

I’ve stuck to definite, dodgy claims with a final figure, but there are plenty of alleged or less specific claims listed here Wikipedia list of Fraudulent Expenses Claims

Despite all the reporting at the time, there are no comprehensive figures for how much was claimed fraudulently, just a few individual cases. This is because there are, apparently, 458,832 pages of documents and nobody has gone through them all, presumably newspaper reports were based on the few isolated documents that the papers looked at.

The Guardian have made an appeal to the public to help them review all the documents, web page here http://mps-expenses.guardian.co.uk/

The receipts and claims for all MPs Expenses are Here

Factors indicating higher culpability (leading to stiffer sentence):

  • Planning of an offence
  • Offenders operating in groups or gangs
  • ‘Professional offending’
  • High level of profit from the offence
  • An attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence
  • Deliberate targeting of vulnerable
  • Abuse of a position of trust
  • Money is used for frivolous items (eg big TVs, expensive holidays, moats) rather than essentials.
I’ve highlighted the factors that I believe apply with the MPs

Labour:

 

Amount

reason

sentence

Hazel Blears

At least £18,332

(£13,332)

Home flipping, tax avoidance and excessive furniture claims

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Milliband

£30,000 smbl

For gardening, decoration and home repairs

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Keith Vaz

£75,000

Claim for a second home despite living in London

15 months – 30 months in prison

In prison

Margaret Moran

£22,500 (£22,500)

Treating dry rot in a home not used for work

18 weeks – 30 months

In prison

Elliot Morley*

£16,000 (£16,000) nfao

Claimed for 18 months for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

David Chaytor*

£13,000 (£13,000) nfao

Claimed for a year for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

Gerald Kaufman

£14,301 smbl (in three months, presumably much more over the years)

Repairs, apparently, but included a TV costing nearly £9000 (only a TV costing less than £750 is permitted)

12 weeks -12 months in prison

Quentin Davies

£10,000 (£10,000)

Repairs to windows in a second home he did not live in.

Community order – 12 months in prison

Ben Chapman

£15,000 (£0) nfao

For interest repayments on his mortgage that he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks in prison

Phil Hope

£37,000 (£41,709) smbl

Expenses for a flat thought to be too small for all the items bought for it

18 weeks – 30 months

 

Conservative

Bill Cash

£15,000

Rent for flat he didn’t live in, gave the money to his daughter

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Davis

£10,000 smbl

Home repairs including a portico for £5,700

Community order – 12 months

Jonathan Djanogly

£31,913 smbl

Security gates, gardening, cleaning

18 weeks – 30 months

John Gummer

£9000 smbl

gardening

Community order – 12 months

David Maclean

£20,000

Improvement to his farmhouse, lying about it to avoid tax

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Anthony Steen

£80,000 smbl

Maintenance to his country home

15 months – 30 months

Brian Binley

£57,000

Rent for a flat that he owned

18 weeks – 30 months

Sir Alan Hazelhurst

£142,119 smbl

Second home allowances for a property that had no mortgage. Incl. £11,771 for gardening over four years

2 – 4 years in prison

The House of Lords

Glenys Thornton, Baroness Thornton

£130,000

Claiming rent for her mother’s house

2 – 4 years in prison

 

*Highlighted names are two of the MPs facing court.
Where it seems that a small part of the claim could be legitimate, I have written “smbl” – some (of the claim) may be legitimate. Where the claim was not fraudulent at outset I have written “nfao” –not fraudulent at outset – and lowered the sentence accordingly. In brackets are the amounts that the MPs paid back.

Using the governments own guidelines I ascertain that if MP fraudsters were benefit fraudsters then at least fifteen of them would be going to prison (many more would be doing community service). However as it is only three MPs and one peer are facing criminal proceedings.

As the expenses are studied more thoroughly more cases of fraud will come to light, it will be interesting to see what, if any, legal proceedings will be carried out.

Summary: Are Members of Parliament subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

The expenses scandal is probably the closest MPs have ever come to facing real justice, however, the ultimate answer is still,

no

The Media and the Law

The British press are regulated by the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) which is made up of representatives of the major newspaper publishers, this means that the press is essentially self-regulating. The PCC has no legal powers, so if a case is considered serious then it must go to court. According to a recent report (Feb 2010) by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee (appointed by the House of Commons) the PCC is weak and slow to react to misbehaviour by the newspapers, while extreme costs mean that few small papers and fewer members of the public can afford to go to court.

The report:

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200910/cmselect/cmcumeds/362/36202.htm

A few cases taken from the report to show the ineffectiveness of the PCC and the courts:

  • Trafigura
  • The McCanns
  • The Phone hacking affair

Trafigura

In 2006 a ship carrying toxic waste for the oil company Trafigura dumped it illegally in Côte d’Ivoire, one of Africa’s largest seaports. According to a UN report 108,000 people needed medical attention and 15 died as a result. At first executives from the company were jailed, but then $198m was paid in compensation to Côte d’Ivoire and they were released. The company has a turnover of $73 billion, income $440 m.

In 2009, when the BBC and The Guardian tried to report the story, the company’s lawyers threatened to sue and the BBC removed all reference to the event from its websites. A few months later the BBC tried to report on the story again, but was forced to make an apology to Trafigura.

Trafigura was then allowed to take out an injunction stopping the press from reporting about it at all and they tried to stop The Guardian even mentioning the injunctions existence. Eventually the story got out, largely due to interference from the public, using the Internet and websites like Twitter to proliferate the story.

According to the Culture, Media and Sport’s report this was not an isolated incident:

It is clear that a mismatch of resources in a libel action, for example between a large corporation for which money may be no object and a small newpaper or NGO, has already led to a stifling effect on freedom of expression.

The cost of litigation has a direct bearing both on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the press and on the standards of the press. We are aware that there are cases where people wronged by the media are deterred from seeking legal remedy by the combination of cost and risk. We have also heard evidence that journalists and editors sometimes refrain from publishing information for fear of legal action, even where they are sure of their facts, because the costs and risks are too high, and that some wealthy individuals and organisations exploit this fear to intimidate the press. For instance Jeff Edwards, former Chief Crime Correspondent of the Daily Mirror, told us that the newspaper would not publish a story relating to the Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, even though it was corroborated, as “we do not mess with Abramovich, he is too powerful, he is too litigious”

The price in terms of freedom of expression can be high. The NGO Article 19, in its submission, wrote:      “Costs in defamation cases in the UK have now reached what may, without exaggeration, be called crisis proportions, particularly from the perspective of NGOs. Costs can be crippling, even if one is ultimately successful in winning a case. The pure ‘harassment’ value of defamation cases has been recognised in many countries, where rich and powerful individuals bring cases which have no chance of success, simply to deter potential critics.”

The McCanns

When Madeleine McCann went missing in 2007, while the McCanns were on holiday in Portugal, there was at first a lot of public and press sympathy. The story was very popular and could increase the circulation of a newspaper dramatically (reportedly by 50,000). However to keep up the high level of coverage, new angles on the story had to be found and when the McCanns were named as suspects by the Portuguese police the press turned nasty, using inaccurate information and hearsay to implicate the McCanns, this was not only cruel at a terrible time in their lives, but also potentially damaging to their defense in court. The report says

The PCC Code of Conduct states in paragraph 1a that ‘the Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information, including pictures’. In paragraph 1c, it states that ‘the Press, while free to be partisan, must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact.’ We believe it was obvious as early as May 2007 that a number of newspapers were ignoring these requirements, yet the PCC remained silent. That silence continued even though the coverage remained a matter of public concern through the summer and autumn of that year. It was only in March 2008, after the Express Group settled in the McCanns’ libel case, that the PCC spoke out. By then, as we have seen, hundreds of false and damaging articles about the McCanns and others had been published across a large number of titles. This was an important test of the industry’s ability to regulate itself, and it failed that test.

It is, however, clear that the press acted as a pack, ceaselessly hunting out fresh angles where new information was scarce. Portugal was also a foreign jurisdiction, where contempt of court laws were unclear, and no consideration was given to how reporting might prejudice any future trial. It is our belief that competitive and commercial factors contributed to abysmal standards in the gathering and publishing of news about the McCann case.

We have heard no evidence to suggest that newspapers have taken action on their own account to ensure that the mistakes of the McCann coverage are not repeated in future, much less that editors and journalists responsible for the publication of so many falsehoods have been asked to account for their decisions, or have faced disciplinary action.

The industry’s words and actions suggest a desire to bury the affair without confronting its serious implications – a kind of avoidance which newspapers would criticise mercilessly, and rightly, if it occurred in any other part of society. The PCC, by failing to take firm action, let slip an opportunity to prevent or at least mitigate some of the most damaging aspects of this episode, and in doing so lent credence to the view that it lacks teeth and is slow to challenge the newspaper industry.

The situation with the McCann’s largely came to light because they were able to successfully sue the newspapers. However, there are also a number of lower profile cases (Flat Earth News is very good for information on this) in which the victim of press inaccuracy or lies did not have the funds to take on a large newspaper in the courts.

The Phone Hacking Affair

In 2006 Clive Goodman, the News of the World royal correspondent and two private detectives were jailed for tapping into the private phone messages of the royals. Both the paper and the police claimed that Clive Goodman was working alone and without the knowledge of the NotW.

A Dispatches documentary earlier this year contradicted this, stating that the police had detailed documents referencing up to 6000 victims, from celebrities to members of the public, but chose not to pursue the majority of the cases, focussing only on the phone-tapping of the royals. It was implied in the documentary that the police were actually scared of causing trouble in case the NotW had collected incriminating information about them. A few of members of the labour government interviewed on the programme also seemed intimidated by the paper. The paper’s royal correspondent Clive Goodman was jailed for four months and Andy Coulson, the newspaper’s editor, resigned. Coulson is now David Cameron’s communications director.

The report talks about the scandal, while it is more careful with its accusations it essentially backs up the Dispatches documentary. After interviewing the police and employees at the News of the World it comes to the conclusion that many phones were tapped, Clive Goodman is unlikely to be the only journalist involved and the police’s reasons for not investigating were “inadequate”. It also believes that Clive Goodman and jailed associates were paid off (“we are left with a strong impression that silence has been bought”).

In evidence to us on 14 July Nick Davies gave us his view:

“They prosecuted Steve Whittamore, the private investigator, and three of his colleagues who were involved in the network, gathering information, they came to Blackfriars Crown Court and pleaded guilty, and the judge in the case said, ‘Well, hang on a moment. Where are the news groups? Where are the journalists?’ and the answer to that question is that the Information Commission felt that, if they charged the newspaper groups, they would (a) hire very expensive QCs, which meant that the Information Commissioner’s office would have to do the same, and (b) they would have masses of preliminary hearings with all sorts of complex legal argument and the effect of that would have been to break the Information Commissioner’s office’s legal budget. They simply could not afford to take on Fleet Street, it was too expensive. It was not, as you might think, a political fear, ‘We’re not going to get into a fight with these powerful newspapers’; it was a budgetary thing.

In seeking to discover precisely who knew what among the staff of the News of the World we have questioned a number of present and former executives of News International. Throughout we have repeatedly encountered an unwillingness to provide the detailed information that we sought, claims of ignorance or lack of recall, and deliberate obfuscation. We strongly condemn this behaviour which reinforces the widely held impression that the press generally regard themselves as unaccountable and that News International in particular has sought to conceal the truth about what really occurred.

Summary: Are the press subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

Again, there is probably more awareness by the public than ever before about the inequalities of power and manipulations by the press (public faith in the newspapers is at an all time low). However, there seems to be a significant number of cases (I have only mentioned a few) in which the law actively protects those who break it, so long as they are rich. Therefore the answer is a definite

no.


Corporate Power vs the Rest of the World

Some illegal and immoral behaviour by UK corporations and the penalties incurred:

  • In October 2000 there were four deaths and 102 injuries caused by the Hatfield Rail Crash. The company Balfour Beatty was thought to be mostly at fault (although Railtrack was also implicated). When sentencing Mr Justice Mackay said it had been responsible for “one of the worst examples of sustained industrial negligence in a high-risk industry I have ever seen”. Balfour Beatty was fined £10million as a result. It has a turnover of over £10billion and last year it made £107 million in profit.
  • Paroxetine (Seroxat, Paxil) was an SSRI antidepressant brought out by GlaxoSmithKline (a UK company) in 1992. GSK carried out a series of trials to see if the drug was effective for use with children suffering from depression and found that the drug performed less well than a placebo and trebled the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviour. In one study seven of the 93 children who took Seroxat had to be taken to hospital. However GSK misrepresented these findings, pushed the drug to GPs as appropriate for children and paid large amounts of money to well-respected doctors to carry out a series of apparently independent seminars praising the drug. Soon over 7000 children in the UK were on Seroxat. The drug was banned for under eighteens in 2003 after large numbers of children started to self-harm and attempt suicide, some children succeeded in these attempts. It is still used by adults (thought to have had 100 million users worldwide) even though it is believed to cause suicidal and murderous behaviour in a significant number of people and many court cases have been brought against GSK as a result. It is also thought to be extremely addictive and some patients cannot come off it even with medical help. Despite extensive proof that GSK lied about their findings and misled doctors (a Panorama programme in 2007 uncovered many documents and emails) Government Prosecutors decided not to pursue the case to court. Panorama Transcript
  • Also GlaxoSmithKline, it was reported that the company tested new AIDs drugs on babies and young children in an orphan care home in New York, this was discovered in 2004. Because the children were orphans GSK did not need to seek the approval of parents to test the drug. There was not a full investigation of how many children were injured or killed in these experiments and no court case has been filed. Guardian Article
  • According to US government safety inspections made over the past three years, BP, the British oil company are responsible for 97% of all flagrant violations in the refining industry. Most of BPs citations were considered “egregious wilful”. Between 1995 and 2005, BP caused the most deaths in the industry in the US, with 22 fatalities. It has paid out $20,000 in federal and state fines in connection with four of those deaths. BP has a net in come of US $16.58 billion. http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/2085/
  • Barclays are the largest UK investor in the arms trade. Halifax, Bank of Scotland, HSBC, Lloyds, TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland either hold shares in the Arms trade or lend it money, sadly this is not illegal. However, according to a report by War on Want, most banks are “violating their own corporate social responsibility (CSR) statements.” “HSBC has since 2000 publicly stated its commitment to “avoid certain types of business, such as financing weapons manufacture and sales” and to have had that policy “fully in place” since 2006. However, since 2000 there has been no significant downward trend in HSBC lending to the arms sector. In fact, there was a major rise in HSBC’s lending in 2005.”  The UK government approved sales by UK arms companies in 2006 included Zimbabwe, China, Russia, Afghanistan and Indonesia. War on Want Report

And there are many less dramatic cases. Taking statistics from a Health and Safety Report 2009/2010 there are nearly 9000 deaths a year that are known to be caused by work (most of those are cancer deaths due to exposure of carcinogens at work, a few hundred are due to accidents). The report states a further 4000 deaths due to exposure to fumes, chemicals and dust may be work related.

So that’s a suspected 13,000 deaths a year due to dangerous working conditions. Conditions that were often known to be dangerous but for which employers took no precautions to protect their employees.

In 2009/2010 there were 26,061 major injuries at work.

In 2009/10, there were 1033 offences prosecuted in Great Britain by HSE and ORR, and which were heard in that year. Of these, 922 were completed, resulting in 737 convictions (80%). Within the 922 figure, seven offences, two of which resulted in convictions, relate to railways, now enforced by ORR.

http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/overall/hssh0910.pdf

The problem when prosecuting companies for corporate manslaughter seem to be:

  • Large companies have expensive lawyers and most member of the public haven’t the money to sue them (even fewer with the recent cuts to legal aid)
  • It is difficult with large corporations to show where the fault is. Often low level management are blamed, prosecuted and sometimes jailed for the specific decisions that led to a death, but executives who orchestrate an environment in which money must come before safety are never found responsible. Because the  environment is never directly challenged, it is never changed.
  • Almost always the legal outcome of a case is a fine, the fine is usually a few thousand, occasionally more. For corporations making billions in profit each year, fines are seen as merely another expense, not a deterrent.
  • Many corporations are international and carry out illegal practices abroad, taking advantage of corrupt or poor governments.

In 2008 The Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act was brought in. It was designed to target the executives of even large corporations, to look at all of the practices of a corporation and supposedly, fines were made potentially limitless.

There has been much talk within law about how this new Act will improve corporate responsibility, but I am sceptical because there are significant limitations to the Act, namely:

  • It is only effective for the UK, if it can be proved that a fatal decision was made outside the UK or if non UK citizens die then nothing can be done.
  • · I have only found one instance of the Act being used, for a small company, the charges against the director have been dropped. News article about Corporate Manslaughter case
  • · The penalty for death is still fines, remedial orders and publicity orders* not jail time.

*Remedial order = sort out faults within the company. Publicity order = tell the public about those faults.

Some sites about the Act:

Government information

Criticism about the Act

Summary: Are corporations and the executives who run them subject to the same laws and penalties as the public?

Thousands have died as a result of illegal and irresponsible work practices, companies are frequently fined a tiny fraction of their profits and only low level management are ever jailed. I hope the new Corporate Manslaughter Act can change this, but as yet there is no sign that it will, so my answer is

no.

Conclusion

There is a lot to be frustrated about with our current legal system, it seems very much biased in favour of those with money and power. However, there have been changes

  • MPs expenses have become subject to the freedom of information act
  • MPs have new rules for their expenses
  • There is awareness and available information about the untrustworthiness of the press
  • The public have more opportunity than ever before to find and exchange their own information
  • There have been changes to the law with regards to corporate manslaughter

Lammers found that the ‘powerful’ participants in his experiments could be stopped from cheating and moral laxity by reminding them that their power was not earned. From this he concluded that the way to ensure the powerful do not become corrupt is to undermine them, remind them of their privileged position. He suggested this could be done through satire, derision or revolution.

If those with power are destined to become corrupt, no matter what their ideals to start with, it is essential that we, the public, make a stand. That we support those who try to expose corruption and that we do not docilely accept the illegal or immoral behaviour of those in power. We must not be quiet, we must never say “Of course politicians/journalists lie” “Of course the courts favour the rich”, instead we need to remain loud, indignant and repetitive when these statements are found to be true, because that is the only way that change will occur, the only way that the powerful will see the error of their ways and start to behave.

Some Useful URLs

Health and Safety

Apply for Freedom of Information

Culture, Media and Sport Reports

War on Want

Seroxat and those it has affected

Mark Thomas

 

MP fraudsters and Benefit Fraudsters

In 2009 was the MP expenses scandal

a major political scandal triggered by the leak and subsequent publication by the Telegraph Group in 2009 of expense claims made by members of the United Kingdom Parliament over several years. Public outrage was caused by disclosure of widespread actual and alleged misuse of the permitted allowances and expenses claimed by Members of Parliament (MPs), following failed attempts by parliament to prevent disclosure under Freedom of Information legislation. The scandal aroused widespread anger among the UK public against MPs and a loss of confidence in politics. It resulted in a large number of resignations, sackings, de-selections and retirement announcements, together with public apologies and the repayment of expenses. (Wikipedia)

As a response to this the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority was set up to monitor the actions of MPs, the rules that they imposed were declared as scandalous and vindictive by MPs, although most of the rules would be considered normal, or luxurious by non-MPs, for example having to use public transport before 11pm. It was also decided that MPs would only have 85% of their phone calls paid for, to which former Labour minister Tom Harris said “[this]so mindbogglingly unfair and ridiculous, you get the impression that Ian Kennedy, its chair, invented it for a joke, just to see how long it took for us to notice”.

One MP said “We are being treated like benefit claimants. Why don’t they just put up a metal grill?”

However, I do not believe they are being treated like benefit claimants, but I would like to demonstrate exactly what would have happened if they were and had been caught defrauding the public to the extent that MPs were caught defrauding the public.

From here:

http://www.parliament.uk/about/faqs/house-of-commons-faqs/members-faq-page2/

Some initial facts:

The annual salary of an MP is £65,738 as of 1 April 2010

Cabinet ministers receive a salary of £134,565 (including MP’s salary of £65,738).

MPs can claim allowances to cover, for example, staff costs, travel expenses and the cost of running an office. They cannot claim for luxuries, what constitutes a luxury is clearly defined.

Opposition parties get extra money to help them carry out their parliamentary business. This is known as ‘Short Money’.

Details of what expenses are allowed are here: http://www.parliament.uk/documents/commons-information-office/M05.pdf

Benefit Fraud Guidelines

The guidelines for benefit fraud are fairly straightforward. For anyone claiming less than £5000 fraudulently a prison sentence is rare, so I will be focussing on MPs who claimed more than that. The sentences for benefit fraud are for “amounts obtained or intended to be obtained”, so any attempt at claiming by an MP is considered serious. I’m not sure that the MPs claims can be considered “professionally planned” more opportunistic, but I do believe most are “fraudulent from the outset”, with benefits, the crime is “not fraudulent from the outset” if a claim is made for a genuine disability or illness that then improves but the claimant continues to collect the money, if an MP claims, for example, money for a mortgage that originally he/she is paying in his/her constituency, but pays off the mortgage but still keeps claiming the money, then this is “not fraudulent from the outset” and has a lesser sentence.

 

£100,000 or more and less than £500,000

£20,000 or more and less than £100,000

Starting point based on: £60,000*

£5,000 or more and less than £20,000

Starting point based on: £12,500*

Fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:2-4 years custody

Starting point:2 years custody

Range:18 weeks-30 months custody

Starting point:12 weeks custody

Range:Community order (HIGH)-12 months custody

Not fraudulent from the outset and either fraud carried out over a significant period of time or multiple frauds

 

Range:12 months-3 years custody

 

Starting point:15 months custody

Range:12 weeks-18 months custody

 

Starting point:6 weeks custody

Range:Community order (MEDIUM)-26 weeks custody

 

 

 

 

 

*The “starting point” can be used as an additional guideline for sentencing, so when the money claimed fraudulently is higher than this amount I have used the “starting point” sentence as the minimum.

I’ve also stuck to definite, dodgy claims, but there are plenty of alleged claims, listed here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_expenses_claims_in_the_United_Kingdom_Parliamentary_expenses_scandal Despite all the reporting at the time, there are no comprehensive figures for how much was claimed fraudulently, just a few individual cases. This is because there are, apparently, 458,832 pages of documents and nobody has gone through them all, presumably newspaper reports were based on a fraction of documents. The Guardian have made an appeal to the public to help them review all the documents, web page here http://mps-expenses.guardian.co.uk/

I am working with the figures that are available and to be as accurate as possible I have included both the amount thought to be claimed suspiciously and the amount to be paid back if it exists (in brackets).

The receipts and claims for all MPs are here http://mpsallowances.parliament.uk/mpslordsandoffices/hocallowances/allowances-by-mp/

Factors indicating higher culpability (leading to stiffer sentence)

Planning of an offence

Offenders operating in groups or gangs

‘Professional offending’

High level of profit from the offence

An attempt to conceal or dispose of evidence

Deliberate targeting of vulnerable

Abuse of a position of trust

Whether the money is used for essential items – food, clothing, family needs – or frivolous items – expensive holidays, electrical goods, moats.

 

Regarding the politicians who have promised to pay back some money, while this would be looked on favourably in a court it would not stop fraudulent benefit claimants from going to prison if the amounts were sufficient.

Where it seems that a small part of the claim could be legitimate, I have written “smbl” – some (of the claim) may be legitimate. Where the claim was not fraudulent at outset I have written “nfao” –not fraudulent at outset – and lowered the sentence accordingly.

Labour:

 

Amount

reason

sentence

Hazel Blears

At least £18,332

(£13,332)

Home switching, tax avoidance and excessive furniture claims

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Milliband

£30,000 smbl

For gardening, decoration and home repairs

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Keith Vaz

£75,000

Claim for a second home despite living in London

15 months – 30 months in prison

In prison

Margaret Moran

£22,500 (£22,500)

Treating dry rot in a home not used for work

18 weeks – 30 months

In prison

Elliot Morley

£16,000 (£16,000) nfao

Claimed for 18 months for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

David Chaytor

£13,000 (£13,000) nfao

Claimed for a year for a mortgage he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks custody

 

Gerald Kaufman

£14,301 smbl (in three months, presumably much more over the years)

Repairs, apparently, but included a TV costing nearly £9000 (only a TV costing less than £750 is permitted)

12 weeks -12 months in prison

 

 

 

 

Ben Chapman

£15,000 (£0) nfao

For interest repayments on his mortgage that he was no longer paying

6 weeks – 26 weeks in prison

 

Quentin Davies

£10,000 (£10,000)

Repairs to windows in a second home he did not live in.

Community order – 12 months in prison

Phil Hope

£37,000 (£41,709) smbl

Expenses for a flat thought to be too small for all the items bought for it

18 weeks – 30 months

 

Conservative

Bill Cash

£15,000

Rent for flat he didn’t live in, gave the money to his daughter

12 weeks – 12 months in prison

David Davis

£10,000 smbl

Home repairs including a portico for £5,700

Community order – 12 months

Jonathan Djanogly

£31,913 smbl

Security gates, gardening, cleaning

18 weeks – 30 months

John Gummer

£9000 smbl

gardening

Community order – 12 months

David Maclean

£20,000

Improvement to his farmhouse, lying about it to avoid tax

18 weeks – 30 months in prison

Anthony Steen

£80,000 smbl

Maintenance to his country home

15 months – 30 months

Brian Binley

£57,000

Rent for a flat that he owned

18 weeks – 30 months

Sir Alan Hazelhurst

£142,119 smbl

Second home allowances for a property that had no mortgage. Incl. £11,771 for gardening over four years

2 – 4 years in prison

 

The House of Lords

Glenys Thornton, Baroness Thornton

£130,000

Claiming rent for her mother’s house

2 – 4 years in prison

 

 

 

Highlighted names are two of the MPs facing court.

Only three MPs (and one peer) will face criminal proceedings, however, sentencing guidelines for benefit fraudsters would lead to at least 15 MPs going to prison. There are currently 649 MPs, once their expenses have been examined properly it is likely that more fraud will come to light.

Summary: Are Members of Parliament subject to the same laws as the public? No.

 

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