PM Attacked On Expenses ‘Silence’

(BBC) – TORY LEADER DAVID CAMERON has accused the government of a ‘big omission’ by not making any mention of MPs’ expenses in the Queen’s Speech.

Either ministers were ‘incompetent’ in not realising new laws were needed to implement reforms, or were afraid of Labour backbenchers, he said.

Sir Christopher Kelly, author of the reforms, said he was ‘disappointed.’

But deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman said laws had already been passed to allow reforms to be brought in.

Sir Christopher’s committee on standards in public life carried out a six-month inquiry in the wake of the scandal about MPs’ expenses and made a series of recommendations earlier this month to change the system.

While he was conducting his review the government rushed through legislation to set up a new body, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, with the power to implement the Kelly review’s recommendations.

But Sir Christopher said in his report that the new authority did not have sufficient powers and should be made responsible for MPs’ pay and pensions, as well as expenses, and be given tougher enforcement and investigation powers, among other changes.

‘It is disappointing therefore that today’s Queen’s Speech did not contain measures to address the changes we believe to be necessary affecting the remit, powers and independence of the new body being established to regulate expenses,’ Sir Christopher said in a statement after the Queen’s Speech.

‘There is no reason why the relatively straightforward legislation needed in this area should prevent the new regulatory body from getting other important changes under way.’

Mr Cameron said there were 11 separate measures which needed to be passed into law in order to implement the Kelly report; but accused Mr Brown of ‘a great big silence’ when challenged to bring them forward.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme leaving expenses out of the speech was a ‘big omission.’

‘Either the government is incompetent and hadn’t realised that Kelly’s report requires these laws to be passed or they are frightened of their own backbenchers, or perhaps they don’t think cleaning up the House of Commons is as important as they said it was.

‘One of the most important legal changes that still has to go through is putting MPs’ pay and pensions on an independent statutory footing so that MPs in the future can’t fiddle with their own pension and their own pay.’

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg also said new legislation was needed, specifically to force MPs to disclose their financial interests.

He had been arguing for days that the Queen’s Speech was a waste of time — as so little time remained for MPs to pass laws before the next general election — and the government should concentrate instead on sorting out expenses and the economy.

Following Sir Christopher’s statement, Number 10 said the prime minister was ready to bring forward any legislation needed to complete his reforms ‘on a cross-party basis as required.’

But Ms Harman, who is also Commons leader, told the BBC: ‘I think that the things Sir Christopher has recommended can and will be taken forward by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

‘I don’t want anyone to think that we have simply not taken the action that was necessary.’

Some recommendations, like the proposed ban on employing relatives, did not require legislation, she said.

She accused Mr Cameron of creating a ‘smokescreen’ adding: ‘It’s not true to say that loose ends have been left and we are somehow half-hearted about this.’

But she said: ‘I will need to reassure Sir Christopher that the things that he wants done, will be done, those legal changes that he doesn’t agree with can simply be dealt with by not bringing them into effect.’

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