House of Commons Speaker John Bercow has come under fire for allowing the destruction of documents that could prove MPs were guilty of wrongfully claiming expenses. The Speaker allowed documents to be destroyed, making it impossible for the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards to investigate allegations.
Despite being elected Speaker after the previous holder of the post was forced to resign due to his attempts to cover-up the scandal, Bercow made no changes to policies that obliged officials to shred documents after three years. Under the same policy, House of Commons staff pay and disciplinary records are kept until they are 100-years-old.
Three members of the Isle of Wight Conservative Association wrote to Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson asking her to investigate their local MP, Andrew Turner. It is unclear whether he is guilty of any wrongdoing, because the House of Commons has destroyed the documents Hudson would need to investigate the matter.
This means the only body in possession of the documents is the Daily Telegraph, which successfully fought a legal battle in 2009 to stop the House of Commons suppressing the leaked documents. Public outrage over the attempts at keeping the documents from the public led to the ousting of Michael Martin as Speaker. He was replaced by Bercow, who promised reforms to clean up Parliament.
The former Leader of the Isle of Wight Council, David Pugh, wrote to Hudson about Turner. Mr Pugh, who has had a number of public spats with Turner, was told the Commissioner could not investigate his claims because of the “availability of evidence”.
According to the Daily Telegraph she told Pugh: “All records relating to expenses claims before 2010 have now been destroyed. No unredacted information is now available here nor any notes of conversations or advice given to Mr Turner which might establish the facts.”
Mr Pugh wrote back saying this development was “extremely concerning.” He went on to say: “This is, in our view, sadly indicative of a wider culture within the Westminster and Whitehall establishment of an inclination to destroy information and evidence which may give rise to future difficult questions about MPs and those in positions of power.”
After the expenses scandal a new body, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) was set-up to oversee payments to MPs but their jurisdiction only extends to the period after the 2010 election. Any documentation about payments before that time were kept by the House of Commons. It is these documents that Bercow allowed to be destroyed.