By Matthew Barrett
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Yesterday in the Commons, the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 was debated. The 2009 Act created IPSA, the body responsible for regulating the current expenses regime for MPs. Its workings are deeply resented by many MPs - some of whom dislike it in principle. Adam Afriyie, the Chair of the Members' Expenses Committee, led the debate, following the publication of a report into the workings of IPSA. The main motion of yesterday's debate was:
That this House approves the recommendations of the First Report from the Members’ Expenses Committee on the Operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009
By Matthew Barrett
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The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which was set up as the regulator for expenses following the Parliamentary expenses scandal, has often been criticised by MPs for being too bureaucratic, remote from those it seeks to regulate, and for enforcing seemingly illogical rules.
IPSA's popularity amongst MPs has, however, not been comprehensively polled - until ComRes, in association with Total Politics magazine, polled 152 MPs from the three main parties. As Total Politics notes, MPs tend to think of IPSA as something that should be scrapped, or something that should be suffered because "the public holds no sympathy whatsoever for complaints". Neither of these attitudes is particularly positive towards IPSA, and the results of the polling reflect that.
By Jonathan Isaby
"That this House regrets the unnecessarily high costs and inadequacies of the systems introduced by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA); calls on the IPSA to introduce a simpler scheme of office expenses and Members’ allowances that cuts significantly the administrative costs, reduces the amount of time needed for administration by Members and their staff, does not disadvantage less well-off Members and those with family responsibilities, nor deter Members from seeking reimbursement of the costs of fulfilling their parliamentary duties; and resolves that if these objectives are not reflected in a new scheme set out by the IPSA in time for operation by 1 April 2011, the Leader of the House should make time available for the amendment of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 to do so."
The motion had been tabled by a cross-party group of MPs, but it fell to Conservative MP Adam Afriyie - who does not himself claim expenses - to move it, giving IPSA four months to change the way it handles MPs' expenses or face being reformed by new legislation.
Mr Afriyie said he wanted to highlight the way in which the current expenses system "unintentionally discriminates against MPs with family commitments and those who come from a less well-off background":
"The system seems almost designed to create a Parliament for the wealthy. If a Member does not have sufficient resources to subsidise themselves, they become ensnared in a vice-like grip designed to bring them into disrepute—they have to produce every single receipt for some sort of personal item. Wealthier Members or those with independent means, of course, can simply not claim. As I look around both sides of the Chamber, I know that probably not a single Member here has claimed everything that they are entitled to claim—first, through fear of the public and the media really having a go, or secondly, because it is too complicated and time-consuming to do so. We have to ask ourselves whether the public want such a system for their Parliament. The wealthy swan through, buy their way out of the system with no trouble at all and are treated as saints when they are nothing of the sort, and everyone else is stuck in the system."
"The current system causes inconvenience and makes things very difficult for Members with families and Members who are less well-off. It also causes problems, because Members are not making claims. Looking back at this year, and certainly over the past six months, I know that virtually every one of my colleagues—I have spoken to 350 MPs one-to-one—has not made the claims that they are entitled to make. That may be seen externally as a great success—“Look, IPSA has crushed the MPs, and they cost far less!”—but we all know that that is not the situation. We know that Members are borrowing from their parents, having to borrow cars from friends, and still sleeping on floors of offices, which they are not supposed to do, because they are not claiming what they rightfully should be able to claim. It is not a good situation.
"However, I am not moaning on behalf of existing MPs. I love all the MPs here, but I am not whingeing on their behalf. What I am concerned about is the functioning of Parliament for the next 100 years. Where will we be in 30 years’ time if we continue down this route where only the wealthy can serve? That is where we were before; I thought we had moved on. IPSA, I hope you are listening."
"The motion asks not for a system that involves looking into the individual lifestyle of every Member, but merely for a simplified system that recognises the variability in family arrangements. The motion asks not for a system that investigates the lifestyle, family arrangements and travelling habits of every MP, but for a simpler system that saves the taxpayer money, so that MPs can focus on the job at hand, whether or not they have a family."
"I am begging IPSA please to propose a scheme that sorts the problems out, and I hope that it will. It has the mandate of the House of Commons already, so it can do so. However, the motion states that if a scheme that can be put into operation by 1 April 2011 is not proposed, this place will act—not in our interests, but in the interests of our constituents and Parliament.
"I am now on the record as encouraging IPSA to come forward with a scheme, but we must be clear on timing. If a proposal is not forthcoming by, say, mid-January, it will be impossible to introduce a scheme before the beginning of the next financial year. Therefore, if the motion is carried, it is necessary for us to introduce a Bill or a statutory instrument or something, probably this side of Christmas, in case IPSA’s proposal is not the right one. Otherwise, we are trapped within the current system, and our constituents will suffer. The costs will be astronomically high for at least another year to a year and a half, and I fear that Members will begin to leave Parliament. The work of Parliament will continue to be impeded unless such changes are made."
"This is a sensitive issue and the public are understandably concerned. I am certain that tomorrow this debate will be reported as, “MPs whinge about their conditions and the independent body that controls them”, but that is not what the debate is about. The debate is about saving the taxpayer money and ensuring that MPs’ voices are heard and not hidden through fear of speaking out."
Other Conservative MPs contributing to the debate made a variety of points.
Friday, December 03, 2010 in Adam Afriyie MP, Andrew Bridgen MP, Charles Walker MP, Edward Leigh MP, IPSA, Mark Field MP, Nadine Dorries MP, Richard Bacon MP, Roger Gale MP | Permalink | Comments (22)
An MP is seeking to employ as a research assistant someone who is a councillor and Cabinet Member on that local council. Part of that local authority falls within the boundaries of the parliamentary constituency which his prospective employer represents in the Commons.
IPSA has told the MP that it would not be appropriate to employ the councillor, seemingly over the potential for conflicts of interest.
Can this really be right?
So long as the matter is declared in the register of interests of MPs' staff and the appropriate local authority register, what can possibly be the problem?
Shouldn't MPs be able to choose who they employ in their offices?
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