The past fortnight has seen trust in our national politics seriously damaged. Hard-working taxpayers right across our country have read with disbelief the revelations about MPs’ expenses.
Too many MPs from all parties have made expenses claims that do not stand up to public scrutiny.
It must stop. It must change. I have pledged to change it.
Shadow Cabinet members are now publishing their expenses online.
I have banned ‘flipping’ and avoiding Capital Gains Tax on second homes; I have stopped all claims on furniture, household goods and food.
Only rent, mortgage interest or hotel bills, utilities, service charges, rates or council tax can be claimed by Conservative members from now on.
Alongside bringing responsibility and accountability to the issue of MPs’ expenses, the issue of dual mandates — or so-called ‘double-jobbing’ — must be faced.
Being an MP is not a part-time job.
Members should be fully involved in every aspect of national governance and debate.
Influence in Westminster is based on presence in Westminster. No-one, irrespective of how talented they may be, can for any significant time be a full-time representative in two places.
I said in Scotland last week that one politician should not try to serve two masters, so they should only sit in one legislature.
Being a Member of Parliament must be a full-time commitment — as should being a Member of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The public deserves nothing less.
This is why I said that any Conservative MP elected to a second legislature will give up the other seat at the first available electoral opportunity.
Across the UK there are 17 MPs with dual mandates, combining a seat in Westminster with a seat in a devolved institution.
Of these 17 MPs, 16 are from Northern Ireland: all nine DUP MPs, all five Sinn Fein MPs and two of the SDLP's three MPs.
I understand that Alex Salmond will be giving up his Westminster seat at the next election. It is recognised that dual mandates do not work — they rob voters of a real voice in Parliament.
Some Northern Ireland MPs do not attend Westminster.
It is inconceivable that a future Conservative majority would vote for taxpayers' money to continue funding absentee MPs.
I want to restore the integrity of the House of Commons and want every point-of-view expressed there by every MP elected to serve there.
I said in December in Belfast that it was in my own strategic and selfish interest to bring people from all corners of the UK into a future Conservative Government.
Ending double-jobbing would open the door to new talent. No party can justify double-jobbing on the grounds that they don't have enough ‘big hitters’ to go round.
Our new electoral force as Conservatives and Unionists has explicitly stated that “the holding of joint mandates will not be permitted”. I would prefer all the Northern Ireland parties to respond to the public's justified anger over politicians' failures and reach a similar voluntary agreement to end all dual mandates before the 2011 Assembly elections.
However, if we cannot persuade other parties to work with us and bring double-jobbing to an end by mutual agreement, a future Conservative Government would consider introducing legislation to prohibit dual mandates.
I am determined that when voters in Northern Ireland go to the polls in 2011 to elect MLAs, the era of dual mandates and double salaries will have been brought to an end. Fixing our broken politics, rebuilding the reputation of Parliament, ensuring that Northern Ireland has a real voice at Westminster — we cannot allow these to be stopped by those with a vested interest in protecting the status quo.
I want the people of Northern Ireland to be fully involved in mainstream UK politics.
That means having MPs fully committed solely to Westminster.