THE BLOG

Fighting Corruption in Parliament

14/06/2013 10:52 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 10:12 BST

Westminster is rarely as compelling as it was a few weeks ago when a group of fed-up MPs berated one of the world's biggest companies. The Public Accounts Committee hearing with Google was as decisive an indication as any that tax avoidance and evasion has shifted from the subject of fringe protests to the very heart of Britain's political mainstream.

The scale of tax avoidance and evasion by large businesses remains unclear and each new revelation invokes a justifiable sense of outrage from the general public. Smaller enterprises in particular baulk at paying a larger proportion of their income in tax than huge multinationals, justifiably angry at what are essentially anti-competition, anti-business practices. When corporations do not pay their fair share of tax it creates an unfair playing field for other companies and provokes a broader distrust of business that damages honest firms.

It's important to see politicians show leadership on this issue, but our attempts to do so will continue to be undermined if the public believes we too are corrupt. To quote Peter Kellner of YouGov: "if you think that Parliamentarians are people who will (a) say anything to win votes and (b) do anything to line their pockets" meaningful debate flies out of the window.

Following outrage over expenses and the recent allegations of cash for questions, the need for change is urgent. Citizens feel let down by a whole range of formerly great British institutions whether it's the newspaper industry, the Church or the BBC. But the drive to restore faith across all sectors has to start with the drive to restore faith in politics and the onus is on those of us in Westminster to lead reform.

We could begin by cleaning up our own act, like creating a statutory register of lobbyists which includes in-house lobbyists (the vast majority) not just 'third parties' as the current proposals suggest. Parliament could update some of the arcane rules around all party groups, the kind involved in last week's sting operation. Indeed, we could appoint an Anti-Corruption Champion with real teeth and proper resources who has responsibility for not just international graft, but politics here at home.

When our Parliament sets the global standard for openness and accountability, not only will we earn the trust of an understandably skeptical public. We will also build the moral authority to crack down on other forms of institutional deception like tax avoidance and evasion, taking - as the UK previously has - the global lead.

Just as dodgy taxpaying destroys consumer trust in companies, scandals in Westminster damage the vital relationship between citizen and state. And just as the UK Government has the opportunity to raise international business standards on both transparency and tax at this month's G8 we too at Westminster have the opportunity to set a global example of an accountable, unimpeachable legislature. British citizens should expect nothing less from the so-called mother of all parliaments.