A new Bill which may be rushed through the Westminster Parliament by next month (with all-party support) in an attempt to restore a shred of public confidence in MPs may result in MPs who fiddle their expenses (in the future) facing 12 months in jail or an unlimited fine.
The new Parliamentary Standards Bill proposes to create a new offence for MPs of "knowingly providing false or misleading information in a claim for an allowance", punishable by up to a year in prison or an unlimited fine. The proposed new rules are expected to come into force early next year, and an independent investigator will start to police MPs' claims and there will be a new commission which will have the power to force errant MPs to repay money if they over claim.
Additionally any MP who fails to comply with the rules on registering an interest could be fined up to £5,000. The same penalty will apply to breaching the rules on "paid advocacy" – asking questions or making speeches which could benefit someone who pays them. Sadly this new tough measure will not be retrospective and so those MPs who have been exposed as cheats in recent weeks will be exempt.
The Old Bill, however, now appear to have pulled their fingers out as Scotland Yard announced last week that it is actively investigating a small number of MPs and peers – so it may be a case of watch this space, or if you are an MP or a Peer with some questionable or dodgy expense claims, it may be a case of watch your back!