The newly formed The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has consulted on a new system for managing MPs’ expenses. Its proposal is here.
Unlike some government consultation documents, this one is well written, thorough, and takes a neutral analytical approach to the problem. Normally when responding to government consultations I eschew the questions posed, since they set the agenda for the response, often in a way that is biased in favour of the proposed changes. In this case I think the questions are thorough and unbiased, so I have responded by answering the questions.
MPs’ Expenses Consultation – comments from Martin Budden
This document, dated 11th February 2010, contains my response to The MP’s Expenses Consultation, at: http://mpexpensesconsultation.org.uk/
I am commenting as an individual. My name and address is:
Please remove my address in any published form of this document.
Question 1: Do you agree that the CSPL’s principles, supplemented as proposed, should form the basis of the new expenses system?
The principles need to be extended with something based on the statement made in paragraph 1.18 of the consultatoin document, namely: “It is not appropriate for an expenses system to be in any way a substitute for salary increases”. It was the sense of entitlement that came with the view that expenses were a substitute for salary that led to the abuse of the expenses system. With such an extension I agree with the principles.
Question 2: Do you agree with our proposal to concentrate on expenses rather than allowances wherever possible?
Question 3: Do you agree that there should be annual limits to the amount that can be spent from public funds on each of the main elements of our expenses scheme, except for travel and subsistence?
Question 4: Do you agree with our approach to the submission of claims?
Question 5: Are you content with our proposed approach to the publication of claims?
Question 6: Do you support the idea of requiring MPs to produce an annual report on their use of public funds?
No. The IPSA will publish will publish all expense claims, whether paid or not. Requiring the MPs to reproduce an annual report is an unnecessary duplication and waste of taxpayers’ money.
Question 7: We propose that MPs are eligible to claim for accommodation expenses unless their constituency contains a station within London transport zones 1-6. Do you agree with this approach?
Yes, reluctantly. Although this proposal is not ideal, I agree with your assessment that alternative proposals would either be too subjective or too costly to administer.
Question 8: Which of the following is most important in a long-term system for accommodating MPs:
No money passing through MPs’ hands.
Question 9: When should the payment of mortgage interest to existing MPs be ended?
In three years.
Question 10: Do you agree with our proposed approach to accommodation expenses for MPs with caring responsibilities?
Question 11: Do you agree with our proposed list of running costs for accommodation which might be met through public funds?
Question 12: Which of the options that we set out do you favour in providing assurance about claims for travel expenses?
Options2: MPs would need to list the date of each journey, its start and end, the distance covered and the reason for it.
Question 13: Do you agree with our approach to travel by public transport, including ordinarily travelling standard class?
Question 14: We propose to prohibit the use of public funds in the employment of family members by MPs. Do you agree with this approach?
I don’t think the prohibition goes far enough. The definition of family members should also include uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. There should also be a prohibition on MPs employing family measures of other MPs. This is because MPs have proved particularly devious at abusing the rules – I can see a system where two MPs agree to employ each others’ relatives to get around the rules. I could even see MPs forming ‘cooperatives’ where MPs employed relatives of other MPs in the cooperative to get around the rules.
Question 15: We propose that IPSA should prohibit MPs from renting from, or purchasing goods or services from, members of their families. Do you agree with this approach?
Again, I don’t think this prohibition goes far enough (see my answer to question 14). The definition of family members should also include uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews. MPs should be prohibited from renting from, or purchasing goods or services from, members of their families or members of the families of other MPs.
Question 16: Do you agree with our proposed approach to communications expenditure?
Question 17: Do you believe there should be any form of payment in the event of an MP leaving Parliament, either voluntarily or otherwise?
Yes, I think MPs should receive a payment on leaving Parliament. A Parliament that has a healthy turnover of MPs is better than a Parliament that contains a large number of career politicians. A payment to MPs on leaving Parliament would help encourage this turnover.
Question 18: What impact do you believe our proposals might have on the diversity of representation in the House of Commons?
Your proposals will reduce the proportion of MPs that are members of the criminal class.
Question 19: Are there further areas we should consider which have not been referred to in this consultation?
Yes. A number of areas:
1) The system should recognise that mistakes can be made and should allow MPs who have made an honest mistake to correct that mistake without being labeled as corrupt.
2) One of the problems with the old system of expenses was that members of the Commons Fees Office were intimidated by MPs. The consultation document does state what measures are proposed to prevent the IPSA from being intimidated by MPs.
3) The consultation document makes no mentions of what sanctions will be applied to MPs who are found to break the new rules. The sanctions need to be able to deal with honest mistakes by MPs (where the sanction would involve repayment and perhaps additional oversight) and deliberate exploitation of the expenses system.
Update 2, 29th March 2010
IPSA has published the New Expenses Scheme for MPs here. The scheme is published in an extremely difficult to read format, and there is no facility to download the scheme in its entirety. My initial response is that I am disappointed, especially because the scheme allows MPs to employ a relative.