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Government is defeated again, this time on expenses

Sir George Young MP The House of Commons endured extraordinary scenes yesterday in the debate on MP's expenses.

Sir George Young, who chairs the Standards and Privileges Committee, had tabled an amendment to defeat the Government's motions, as he felt they pre-empted Sir Christopher Kelly's independent review for the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

Then Leader of the House Harriet Harman announced that the Government would support Sir George's amendment, but have votes on other reforms.

The motion relating to MPs being paid to turn up to work was withdrawn before going to a vote. And the reform of the second homes allowance will be left to Sir Christopher (although London MPs will lose their allowance for a second home).

Shadow Leader of the House of Commons Alan Duncan comes into his own during debates like these:

"We are living in very feverish economic and political times. At a moment like this, the House can either look absolutely absurd or lift its level of debate and discussion to something that properly understands what this place should be. The boot that is on one foot at the moment can, in due course, change, and the balance of advantage in this place changes with it. We must therefore appreciate that this Parliament needs to work through those changes and set standards to which everyone will adhere.

We are a representative democracy. We are elected here to do our public duty, but we are also private individuals. We do not have a presidency—we have a Parliament. Those who say, “Look, the Senate can exist with 100 people and the House of Representative with 435”, or whatever it is, forget that it takes a billion quid to be elected President. Yet it is from our Parliament that all our Ministers are drawn. We are the pool of talent from which the legislation is made and from which the Executive are formed. That is how we are, and it means that this place has to work to accommodate both those needs.


It is quite clear that as time has gone on, we have moved gradually, intermittently and sometimes contradictorily between setting our own terms and giving the responsibility to another body. I believe that it is right that we should not set our own terms and conditions. Indeed, the Prime Minister believed only a few weeks ago that the current issues should be referred to the Committee on Standards in Public Life. So it was that he wrote to the chairman of that committee on 30 March. It is now only a month later—30 April—and things seem dramatically to have changed."

Sir George Young spoke too:

"Let me read to the House what it will agree if, as seems likely, the amendment is accepted:

    “That this House welcomes the Prime Minister’s decision on 23 March 2009 to invite the Committee on Standards in Public Life to inquire into Members’ allowances; believes that in order to command maximum public support for change the House should defer its conclusions until after the Committee has reported; and further believes it would be desirable for the House to have an opportunity to consider any recommendations from the Committee as early as possible.”

The Government have said that they agree with that, and it would therefore be inconsistent for them to invite the House to reach conclusions before the Committee has reported. That would stand logic on its head and I invite them to think again. If they agree with my Committee about amendment (j), they should not proceed with the subsequent motions. Anything else is inconsistent and illogical and would defy what the House had agreed to.


My Committee thought long and hard before deciding to intervene in the debate. My Committee likes to cruise in the stratosphere above the turbulence of party politics, and it is no part of our agenda to pick a fight with the Prime Minister on the matter that we are considering. We are a group of colleagues, appointed by the House, to have regard to the reputation of the House. Our view is that that is best served by the action that we propose.

Indeed, far from disagreeing with the Prime Minister, we agree with him on the need for radical reform and we wrote to him on 31 March, welcoming his decision to invite Sir Christopher Kelly to conduct a thorough review of our allowances. We believe that that was the right way forward. Sir Christopher responded to the Prime Minister by rearranging his Committee’s programme to accommodate the request. He has drafted and, indeed, circulated a consultation document, asking for evidence on all the issues before the House by 5 June. At that point, I think we were on the right track.

Then, for reasons that have never been properly explained, the Prime Minister went on YouTube. I think that it would have been better to make an oral statement to the House, but perhaps I am old-fashioned. Some rushed decisions were announced. There was no consultation, even, we hear, with Cabinet colleagues. A new timetable for implementation was proposed and Kelly was pre-empted with conclusions about what should happen on key issues.


My Committee has been accused of trying to kick the ball into the long grass, and misrepresented as seeking to preserve our allowances for as long as possible. That is not the case. The Kelly inquiry is not the long grass; it is the best, and possibly the last, chance to get this right. For reasons of public interest, not self-interest, we believe that it would be a mistake to go ahead as the Government plan to do. We also believe that we should not pre-empt Kelly. Only the proposals that flow from an independent inquiry will command public confidence. Let Kelly and his Committee come to their own independent conclusions; then the House can decide. In the meantime, the Government should not dictate to them, or to us."

It's over for Labour. This week serves as further proof that they have become decadent.

Tom Greeves


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