Party leaders agree to independent supervision of MPs’ expenses

May 20, 2009 at 10:25 am 1 comment

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Members of Parliament will submit themselves to outside scrutiny for the first time in changes to the expenses system announced by the Speaker yesterday.

Michael Martin, who announced yesterday that he is to stand down next month, convened a meeting of the leaders of all parties in the Commons yesterday.

They agreed that a new independent body would oversee expenses claims, a break with the tradition of the House supervising and policing its own affairs.

Mr Martin also announced that MPs will no longer be able to make claims for a range of items such as furniture. The changes come after a series of stories in The Daily Telegraph about the claims of some MPs.

The meeting was attended by Sir Christopher Kelly, Chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. He is to produce a report and recommendations about MPs’ expenses later this year.

“The Committee on Standards in Public Life will come forward with long-term reforms to the current allowances system,” Mr Speaker said.

“All parties are now committed to implementing its recommendations as a whole, subject to the formal agreement of this House, provided that these reforms meet the tests of increased transparency and accountability and reduced cost for the taxpayer.

“We have today agreed a robust set of interim measures which will take effect at once and do not pre-empt any more substantial changes to be put forward by the Kelly committee.

“Second homes: there will be no more claims for such items as furniture, household goods, capital improvements, gardening, cleaning and stamp duty.

“The following only should be claimable: rent, including ground rent; hotel accommodation; overnight subsistence; mortgage interest; council tax; service charges; utility bills, including gas, water, electricity, oil, telephone calls and line rental; and insurance—buildings and contents.

“Designation of second homes: no changes to be made to designation of second homes in the years 2009–10, with a transparent appeal procedure for exceptional cases.

“Capital gains tax: Members selling any property must be completely open with the tax authorities about whether they have claimed additional costs allowance on that property as a second home and are liable for capital gains tax.

“Members should make a declaration in respect of any property on which they claim for expenditure that it is not—and will never be—their main residence for capital gains tax purposes.

“Whether such a declaration has been made will be made public.

“Couples: Members who are married or living together as partners must nominate the same main home, and will be limited to claiming a maximum of one person’s accommodation allowance between them.

“Mortgages: all those Members claiming reimbursement must confirm that the mortgage continues, that the payments are for interest only, and the amount claimed is accurate.

“Mortgage interest claims will be capped at £1,250 per month.

“In the view of the meeting—and subject to the recommendations of the Kelly committee—this maximum figure should be reduced in the longer term.

“The same cap will apply to rent and hotel accommodation. Some of these measures I am announcing will require a resolution by the House in the near future; others will be put into effect by administrative action.

“Staffing: we confirmed the enforcement of deposit of staff contracts and the registration of any relatives employed.

“While the Kelly committee recommendations are awaited, there will be no specific changes to other allowances.

“The Department of Resources is instructed to tighten the administration of all claims and apply a clear test of “reasonableness”.

“If there is any doubt about the eligibility of a claim, it will be refused and there will be no appeal. In future, all authorised payments will be published online at transaction level on a quarterly basis by the Department of Resources.”

The Speaker also announced that all claims by MPs for the past four years would be looked at.

“This will be carried out by a team with external management; the external manager will be appointed after consultation with the Comptroller and Auditor General,” he said.

“All necessary resources will be made available.

“The team will look at claims in relation to the rules which existed at that time, and will take account of any issues which arise from that examination which cause them to question the original judgment.”

The Prime Minister and the other party leaders have approved a “fundamental reform” that will create a independent regulatory body for MPs.

The Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, is due to make a statement about the new body today.

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  • […] Earlier today the Speaker announced immediate changes to what MPs can claim on expenses. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Details of MPs’ expenses claims to be released before JulySpeaker makes “profound” apology for expenses rowParty leaders agree to independent supervision of MPs’ expensesChanging standing orders should top agenda as Parliament convenes […]

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