What I said to IPSA

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My response to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority consultation:

Question 1: Do you agree that the CSPL’s principles, supplemented as proposed, should form the basis of the new expenses system?

Yes

Additional comments:

The public must have a right to know the specifics of expenses. This implied by “open and transparent” but MPs have for years insisted that the system was both of those things and that was clearly not the case. Therefore the principles need to include a public right to know.

Question 2: Do you agree with our proposal to concentrate on expenses rather than allowances wherever possible?

Yes

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?

Yes

Further comments:

I believe that a lot of MP “casework” is in fact campaigning that is not central to their role as a legislator. I therefore believe that the scope of what support staff can and cannot do in helping with casework should be more restricted than at present. By contrast, I think expenditure on research should be more generous than at present – this would give backbench and independent MPs more ability to scrutinise.

Question 4: Do you agree with our approach to the submission of claims?

Yes

Question 5: Are you content with our proposed approach to the publication of claims?

Yes

Question 6: Do you support the idea of requiring MPs to produce an annual report on their use of public funds?

Yes

Further comments:

If MPs are to produce annual reports then it is crucial that their opponents are given a right to reply within the report itself. Perhaps the two parties or individuals who came runner up in the last election should be allowed space to respond.

Not including a right to reply would make it to easy for MPs to turn these reports into marketing documents and evade scrutiny.

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

Question 8: Which of the following is most important in a long-term system for accommodating MPs:

Flexibility for MPs to identify properties that meet their individual needs.

Question 9: When should the payment of mortgage interest to existing MPs be ended?

In two years.

Question 10: Do you agree with our proposed approach to accommodation expenses for MPs with caring responsibilities?

Yes

Question 11: Do you agree with our proposed list of running costs for accommodation which might be met through public funds?

No

I don’t have a problem with MPs claiming for furniture. However, these items should be owned by the parliamentary authorities. When an individual ceases to be an MP they can either purchase any items they still want (at a price assessed according to depreciation) or give it back. If the latter, the items would be either disposed of or auctioned.

Question 12: Which of the options that we set out do you favour in providing assurance about claims for travel expenses?

Option 2 (We could ask that all claims for expenses be accompanied by details of each individual journey. MPs would need to list the date of each journey, its start and end, the distance covered and the reason for it.)

Option 3 seemed to be incredibly bureaucratic and hard to enforce.

Question 13: Do you agree with our approach to travel by public transport, including ordinarily travelling standard class?

Yes

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?

No

Rather than banning all family members, I would prefer stricter rules on recruitment. Recruitment should be coordinated by Parliament according to strict equal opportunities guidelines, with the MP sitting as a member of the recruitment panel. There are legitimate reasons for employing partners (other family members, not so much), but this should be assessed objectively. This also avoids the problem of MPs “wife swapping” – i.e. employing each others’ wives.

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?

Yes

Question 16: Do you agree with our proposed approach to communications expenditure?

Yes

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

MPs should be entitled to statutory redundancy pay along with everyone else.

Question 18: What impact do you believe our proposals might have on the diversity of representation in the House of Commons?

Many of the claims that cracking down on expenses will discourage good people from becoming MPs are overblown. No MPs or candidates of my acquaintance are in it for the money. The bad publicity surrounding MPs’ expenses will certainly have put people off, but if the system is put on a firmer – and transparently more reasonable – footing the debacle will have long term benefits.

Question 19: Are there further areas we should consider which have not been referred to in this consultation?

There will always be pressure on MPs to abuse their expenses and staff to the benefit of their party until we have a proper system of party funding paid by the taxpayer. We must always be careful to avoid the “incumbancy protection creep” we have seen with the development of the Communications Allowance. Where MPs are to be funded to communicate with their constituents it should be a basic point of principle that their main rivals are given the right and opportunity to reply.

You have until 11 February to submit your own responses. It shouldn’t take you longer than 30 minutes.

2 thoughts on “What I said to IPSA

  1. “If MPs are to produce annual reports then it is crucial that their opponents are given a right to reply within the report itself. Perhaps the two parties or individuals who came runner up in the last election should be allowed space to respond.

    Not including a right to reply would make it to easy for MPs to turn these reports into marketing documents and evade scrutiny.”

    Surely giving opponents a “right to respond” wouldn’t do anything to fix these problems, only add to them? Reports would become adverserial as well as marketing.

    I don’t really see the point in making MPs do “reports” to begin with. Make all claims FoI, and leave MPs to decide whether they need to defend themselves at all.

  2. I don’t have a problem with adversarial politics – indeed I think that is a good basis for a democracy.

    That said, the replies should have to abide by certain rules of decorum just as the MP’s report would have to be.

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