Cheating MPs to face 1 year in prison

Leader of the Commons Harriet Harman has announced plans to introduce new punishments of up to one year in prison for MPs who are caught deliberately breaking the law if they knowingly submit a false expense claim, accepting payment for asking questions in Parliament or failing to register outside interests.

The establishment of a new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority looks set to go ahead, though it will need to be entirely open to public scrutiny if it's worth anything. The new punishments, part of the proposed Parliamentary Standards Bill, are intended to give it some teeth and to prove to the electorate that the Commons - highly embarrassed by the recent scandal - mean what they say when they promise to do something about it.

Any MP who commits fraud could face a year in prison.
If you do, you could face two and a half years.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, keen to try to salvage some scrap of whatever reputation he ever had, has expressed his support for the plans and indicates that they could be approved as soon as April. Amazing how quickly he can get stuff done when there's a General Election just around the corner, isn't it?

All well and good.

One thing though. According to the Government's sentencing guidelines website, if you are in receipt of benefits and are caught defrauding the Department of Work and Pensions in a case that involves "fraud on a large scale that results in loss of considerable sums," you are liable to face a prison sentence of up to 30 months. The sheer number of MPs now shown to have submitted very dubious claims and the sheer amount of money received surely count as "large scale" and "considerable sums."

Benefit fraud is, of course, wrong. As the website says, it is "dishonest abstraction of taxpayers’ money" - cheats defraud hard-working, honest people: exactly the same people who pay for MPs' expenses.

So why is there going to be one law for them and another for us?

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