MPs vote in favour of changes to staffing and allowances

May 1, 2009 at 1:59 pm Leave a comment

A series of changes to expenses for Members of Parliament were approved in the Commons yesterday.

The per diem attendance allowance, an idea floated by the Prime Minister, had already been dropped. However no comprehensive plan to overhaul the second home allowance has been revealed.

Members representing outer London constituencies will not be entitled to a second home allowance and MPs will have to make detailed declarations about employment outside the House.

Members’ staff will in future be employed by the House and not individual MPs.

“We all recognise that Parliament has legitimacy because each of us is democratically elected,” Harriet Harman, the Leader of the House, told MPs, “but we also know that the institution of Parliament needs to command public confidence, and it is evident that the public do not have confidence in our allowance system.

“That lack of confidence undermines not only the institution of the House of Commons, but every one of us Members.”

Shadow Leader of the House, Alan Duncan, reflected the anger of many MPs at the way in which the reform process has been handled.

“We seem to be treading rapidly into the realms of complete and utter lunacy,” he said.

The Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Christopher Kelly has been asked to compile a report on expenses.

“We have just heard that the Leader of the House is to commend that the House, without a vote, endorses an amendment that says that Sir Christopher Kelly’s report should be waited for,” said Sir Patrick Cormack.

“She went on to say that the House should, in effect, pre-empt Sir Christopher’s decisions in a number of particulars. Surely that is inconsistent, and surely all the other motions are predicated on the amendment that is to be carried.”

On the issue of London MPs, Ms Harman said:

“All Members representing constituencies within 20 miles of Westminster would be treated as London MPs. The 20-mile limit is drawn from the Green Book.

“Whatever the Kelly report recommends on the additional costs allowance, I think, and I invite the House to decide now, that the distinction between inner and outer-London Members is no longer sustainable.

“Whatever the Kelly committee’s proposal is to deal with the extra costs of constituencies outside London, and the proposal will then be debated in the House, we ought to decide now that all London MPs—inner and outer-London MPs—should be treated the same.”

That will come into force next year.

Ms Harman said that the Prime Minister “has already decided that no Minister using grace and favour accommodation in London will be able to claim the accommodation allowance. That will be done by amending the ministerial code and will be effective from 1 July.” The matter was not put to a vote.

“The third motion would, by requiring Members to declare all their earnings from outside employment, enable the Kelly review to make its proposals about outside employment with full knowledge of its extent. I believe that the motion is necessary to assist the Kelly committee.” It will come into force on July 1st.

“The fourth motion is about our staff. The reality is that the staff allowance is nothing to do with our salary; it is to pay our staff. Yet, because it is accounted for as part of our allowance, the public see it as part of our pay, which it is not.

“Motion 4 would allow the House to express the view that Members’ staff should be employed by the House, while ensuring that we would appoint and manage them, and would ask the House of Commons Commission to look into how that could be done.

“It would help us to move towards a prompt change in the arrangements if the Commission could get to work on the practical issues alongside the Kelly inquiry.

“Motion 5 would provide that, in respect of all claims where documentary evidence is required, there should no longer be a £25 cut off.

“There would need to be receipts for all claims. I really do think that that is something sensible which we could decide for ourselves now.” The new rules on receipts will come into force in July.

All the motions were approved by MPs.

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