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Does the Telegraph have the right recipe on MPs' pay and allowances to restore public confidence?

Public confidence in politicians is at an all-time low, with many MPs blaming this on the Daily Telegraph for the way it exposed how MPs have been using (and abusing in some cases) taxpayer-funded allowances over many years.

ConservativeHome has tended to take the view that the Telegraph was right to run with the story, which is now ensuring that minds are focused on cleaning up British politics and making it more transparent.

Yet the Government's own efforts through its Parliamentary Standards Bill have not met with universal approval, and an editorial in this morning's Daily Telegraph joins that chorus of scepticism. Indeed, the paper responsible for putting the whole issue on the agenda has now issued its own prescription for MPs' pay and allowances, which it summarises as follows:

  • MPs should be paid a basic annual salary to be decided by the Kelly committee, and subsequently linked to inflation.
  • MPs should be reimbursed for the additional costs of being at Westminster during the week. They should receive reasonable expenses, for which receipts should be available. All claims should be automatically published every month on the parliamentary website.
  • There should be a presumption that MPs within an hour's journey of central London would normally commute.
  • It should no longer be possible to use parliamentary expenses to subsidise a second home. If an MP has another residence, then it should be one he or she is able to afford from private means. If an MP representing a seat outside London wishes to retain a principal residence in the capital, similar arrangements could apply to defray the costs of visiting his constituency.
  • Office allowances should continue to be paid, to enable an MP to employ a secretary and one assistant.
  • MPs should be free to hold second jobs, and should indicate how much they earn overall from such employment in the register of members' interests.
  • This system should be administered by a professionally run parliamentary body, with the scrutiny of expenses outsourced to a private company, as happens with many companies employing far more than 650 people. There should be scrutiny by the National Audit Office, whose reports would be published annually.
  • MPs' annual communication allowance of £10,000, brought in two years ago to help MPs stay in touch with their constituents, but often abused, should be scrapped.
  • The number of MPs should be cut by 20 per cent.
  • The taxpayers' contribution to MPs' pensions should be reduced to 10 per cent from the current 30 per cent, with MPs making increased contributions.

I am in agreement with much of this, although the fifth point concerns me greatly.

To reduce MPs to employing just two members of staff has the potential to hugely diminish their ability to do their job properly and diligently. The amount of casework which the public expect MPs to take on these days often necessitates a full-time caseworker (sometimes more than one) in addition to a secretary and a parliamentary research assistant.

The editorial also suggests that parliamentary expenses must not "subsidise a second home". For those MPs who are not in reasonable commutable distance of Westminster, a London base is an absolutely necessity and to suggest that an MP should have to be able to afford that from "private means" is hugely discriminatory. Presumably the paper would allow for the payment of rent or hotel accommodation through its reimbursement for the "additional costs of being at Westminster during the week" - although for MPs of many years' standing, purchasing a property would probably be better value for money in the long term.

What do you think?

Jonathan Isaby


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