Tony has complied with the rules and so far as I can see hasn't broken any, but therein lies the problem. A system which allows an MP to claim for a second home which is located a mere 8 miles from his main home is surely open to ridicule and disdain. McNulty suggests that any MP who lives within 60 miles of London should not be able to claim for a second home. I'm not sure about that particular criteria, but the sentiment is right.
Gone are the days of the all night sitting. MPs now have roughly the same working hours on most nights of the week as much of the rest of the population. Why then, shouldn't those who live within spitting distance of London commute in the same way as their constituents have to? Over the last three weeks, these are the times the House of Commons has stopped sitting
Thur 19 - 4.43pm
Wed 18 - 7.57pm
Tue 17 - 10.26pm
Mon 16 - 10.05pm
Thur 12 - 6.33pm
Wed 11 - 7.51pm
Tue 10 - 10.42pm
Mon 9 - 10.38pm
Thur 5 - 6.31pm
Wed 4 - 7.47pm
Tue 3 - 9.24pm
Mon 2 - 10.24pm
On many of these days there was no vote, so most MPs could have left the House way before the time it stopped sitting. And one line whips seem to be in vogue at the moment too, meaning that some MPs are only in Westminster for two days a week at the moment. I know of one Conservative MP who claims nothing for a second home allowance and goes home to a constituency way outside London each night, late vote or no late vote.
One also has to wonder how on earth members of the House of Lords manage. They finish at similar times yet none of Their Lordships get a second home allowance, although they are entitled to claim expenses.
My solution for this is simple. Abolish any form of second home allowance for MPs whose constituency home is less than a certain mileage from Westminster, but give those who live outside Greater London a hotel allowance for use on a maximum of two nights a week if the House sits after 10pm. It's simple, transparent and defensible.
If the Commons authorities fail to deal with this issue we can look forward to a weekly dose of stories which bring MPs into disrepute. Yes, they often bring themselved into disrepute, but they don't need any help from a system which is open to abuse and misinterpretation.
UPDATE: Greg Hands MP has just issued the following statement...
The Minister can’t seem to get his story straight. He admits that the arrangement looks odd and that he stopped it in January, but won’t repay the £60,000 he took from taxpayers to fund it. He says that he uses the house for constituency work but his office is just round the corner. Now he says that MPs in the South East shouldn’t be claiming housing allowances when he voted against a similar proposal less than a year ago. Once again, the position of one of Gordon Brown’s Ministers looks indefensible. It clearly needs to be investigated.