The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life today published its response to the consultation paper prepared by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority for their first review of the MPs' expenses scheme.
Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee, said:
"Parliament's decision to remove MPs' role in setting their own expenses regime and the creation of an independent regulator was one of the most important steps taken to restore public confidence. Nothing that has happened over the months since the setting up of the new scheme at the beginning of the current Parliament should be allowed to cast doubt on that fundamental point - despite some of the vociferous criticism IPSA has faced and the significant difficulties apparently experienced in bedding down the scheme.
"But there is a risk that in pursuit of the public confidence objective insufficient attention may be paid to another important point - that the purpose and principal function of the expenses scheme is to support Members of Parliament effectively in carrying out their important and difficult jobs. The Committee has seen much anecdotal evidence - including from their own conversations with individual MPs - that the current scheme as presently constituted is not yet succeeding in fully meeting that objective, even allowing for inevitable teething difficulties. IPSA have already made a number of important changes and we hope they will be prepared to make further changes where the evidence supports it.
"In our report on MP's expenses published last year we recommended that the arrangements should be sufficiently flexible to take account of the diverse working patterns and demands placed upon individual MPs, and should not deter representation from all sectors of society. The Committee welcomes the consultation paper's identification of the impact on MPs' family life as a key theme to be explored further. It would be a tragedy if the implementation of an expenses scheme were to have the effect of inadvertently and unnecessarily limiting access to the role of MP for those with young families, caring responsibilities or other challenging personal circumstances.
"Another major issue raised by a number of MPs is the difficulty they have experienced in obtaining advice about the legitimacy of certain expense claims. It is the Committee's view that it is a proper function for a regulator to be prepared to give advice on the implications of the regulations for which they are responsible, and that they ought to be able to do so without prejudicing the fact that it is ultimately the MP's own responsibility to ensure the legitimacy of their claims. There is a balance to be struck."
Sir Christopher continued:
"The Committee made two significant recommendations in our report which were not taken up by IPSA in their design of the new scheme. One was that a commercial agency should be employed with the task of finding and maintaining rented accommodation for new MPs, along the lines of a similar scheme in place for a rather larger number of Ministry of Defence personnel posted to different parts of the country. It remains in our view an attractive proposition which could help simplify the arrangements for many new MPs and remove some of difficulties with the detailed rules on accommodation. For that reason we very much hope that IPSA will take steps to explore the option further in good time for the next election.
The other recommendation was that new MPs should no longer be able to use their expenses to employ family members at public expense, though existing MPs who already did so should be allowed to continue for one more Parliament. We were disappointed that IPSA chose not to implement this recommendation in full, though they have limited MPs to the employment of only one "connected party" out of their expenses. We continue to be concerned about the potential for abuse - perceived or otherwise - which this creates.
The Committee's response to the IPSA consultation is available on the website www.public-standards.org.uk
Notes to Editors
1. For all media enquiries and interview requests for the Committee Chairman, Sir Christopher Kelly, media should contact Maggie O'Boyle.
2. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is an Advisory Non-Departmental Public Body (NDPB) sponsored by the Cabinet Office. The Chair and Members are appointed by the Prime Minister. The Committee was established in October 1994 with the following terms of reference: "To examine current concerns about standards of conduct of all holders of public office, including arrangements relating to financial and commercial activities, and make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements which might be required to ensure the highest standards of propriety in public life. Additional terms of reference were announced on 12 November 1997: "To review issues in relation to the funding of political parties, and to make recommendations as to any changes in present arrangements."
3. The Committee's report on MPs' expenses entitled 'MPs' expenses, supporting Parliament safeguarding the taxpayer' (Cm 7724) published in November 2009 is available to download from the Committee's website www.public-standards.org.uk.
4. The current members of the Committee are: Sir Christopher Kelly KCB, Chairman, Rt Hon Lord Alderdice, Rt Hon Margaret Beckett MP, Lloyd Clarke QPM, Oliver Heald MP, Sir Derek Morris MA DPhil, Dame Denise Platt DBE, David Prince CBE, Dr Elizabeth Vallance JP, Dr Brian Woods-Scawen DL CBE. As with the Committee's report on this subject in November 2009 (Cm 7724), the Committee's politically appointed members have not taken part in the preparation of this response to avoid any real or perceived conflict of interest.
5. The Committee is currently carrying out an inquiry into the Party Political Finance Inquiry. Further information is available on the Committee's website www.public-standards.org.uk.or from 0207 276 2595.
Committee on Standards in Public Life
Phone: For enquiries please contact the issuing dept