Only ‘Alice In Wonderland’ Westminster Would Delay Reform Of ‘Rotten’ Parliament

Nick Clegg(Nick Clegg) – ATTEMPTS TO REFORM THE SYSTEM OF MPS’ EXPENSES have been a complete disaster.

And now, just at the point when we thought we could start fixing our rotten system, the backsliding has begun.

It has been six months since The Daily Telegraph began exposing the corruption in the system, and the firestorm has raged ever since.

In Kelly, it seemed that we had finally got a blueprint for expenses reform which was based on exactly the right decisions – for example, taking MPs out of the property game.

We needed all politicians of all parties to come together and say that we were going to adopt the Kelly proposals lock, stock and barrel.

To suggest now that it could be left up to this arm’s length agency – Ipsa – to reinvent the rules is ludicrous. Ipsa should make it clear right from the start that it sees its role as implementing the Kelly proposals in their entirety.

Otherwise, we won’t be any further along in cleaning up the system by the time of the next general election, which seems to me a disaster for democracy.

The Government is guilty of delivering mixed signals on this. Harriet Harman suggested at the weekend that Ipsa may well reject some of the Kelly proposals.

But we can scarcely ask people to put their trust back in politics if we are playing games like this.

Nor will the public forgive us while MPs with some of the most egregious claims, such as ‘flipping’ and the non-payment of capital gains tax, go unpunished.

I have become increasingly dismayed at the way that Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both been guilty of failing to take their MPs to task over this.

Cameron in particular consistently portrays himself as someone who believes in new politics, but he has not tackled Conservative MPs who in some cases have benefited financially by tens of thousands of pounds at taxpayers’ expense.

Given the lack of action, it would be adding insult to injury if we didn’t sort this out for the future.

And we would be committing a spectacular own goal if we were seen as getting involved in monkey business by trying to wriggle out of the straitjacket that Kelly seeks to impose.

It beggars belief – and could happen only in this Alice in Wonderland Parliament – and to me the whole thing is starting to stink.

We need agreement now, driven by political leadership from the top, that Kelly will not be watered down and will be implemented as quickly as possible.

That seems to be an absolute minimum if we are going to clean up what will go down in history as one of the most rotten Parliaments ever.

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Lawyer Will Head IPSA

(Telegraph) – THE LAWYER WHO CHAIRED THE INQUIRY into the deaths of child heart patients in Bristol is expected to become chairman of the new body created to oversee MPs’ allowances.

Professor Sir Ian Kennedy has not been offered the job; but his appointment was approved by the Speaker’s Committee, the group of senior MPs in charge of selecting the board of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which will replace the fees office. That clears the way for his name to be put before MPs today.

Sir Ian is an academic lawyer who specialises in health ethics. He chaired the public inquiry into the deaths of several children during heart surgery at Bristol Royal Infirmary.

He was chairman of the Health Commission until its abolition earlier this year.

The first task of the IPSA is to deal with the recommendations of Sir Christopher Kelly’s report into MPs’ expenses. The body will draw up and police the system of allowances.

Over the next five months, the chairman and his four-strong board will be responsible for drawing up a new scheme for MPs’ allowances, including determining what claims are allowed, how much is to be paid, and how payment will be administered.

They are obliged to ‘be informed’ by the recommendations of the Kelly review. While many MPs may seek to encourage them to drop some of his proposals, the board will be under pressure not to deviate too far from them.

As well as an allowances regime, IPSA will publish a code of conduct for MPs.

Insiders said IPSA was unlikely to be operating until after the general election, which must be held by June.

Once IPSA comes into force, the new chairman and his team will also take on responsibility for paying MPs’ salaries and allowances, maintaining the register of financial interests, and supporting the new Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations, who will be in charge of conducting inquiries into MPs suspected of breaking the new rules.

Downing Street sources suggested that the appointment of Sir Ian was likely to be ‘nodded through.’

If any MP does object, however, a vote will be held after the debate on Sir Christopher’s proposed reforms. A simple majority will be enough to confirm the nomination.

With representatives from all the main parties having approved the choice last night, it is highly unlikely that the nomination would be overturned by MPs.

The new chairman was recommended by a four-member panel headed by Felicity Huston, the Commissioner for Appointments for Northern Ireland, a tax consultant who also sits on the Lords Appointments Commission.

Expenses Proposals Get Watered Down

(Telegraph) – MPS WILL NOT BE PROSECUTED for failing to declare their financial interests with a new watchdog — set up in the wake of the expenses scandal.

It is the latest climb-down by ministers who are desperately scrambling to get the new proposals in place before Parliament closes down for its long summer recess next week.

It has led some. including Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, to accuse the main parties of blocking attempts to clean up the Commons after the disclosures by The Daily Telegraph.

Baroness Royall, the Leader of the Lords, backed down yesterday in the face of opposition from peers to key parts of the Parliamentary Standards Bill.

She removed a section from the Bill that would have created an offence of failing to comply with the register of financial interests that will be maintained by new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which is being created by the new Bill to take the running of expenses out of the hands of the Commons.

New criminal offences are also being brought in to apply to MPs, as Gordon Brown attempts to show he is trying to reform the system.

However, even before yesterday’s move in the Lords, ministers had already agreed to remove IPSA’s role in enforcing the allowances or financial conduct regime and the offence of paid advocacy.

Lady Royall did reject moves to take out the offence of an MP making a claim for an allowance using ‘false or misleading’ information; but said the Government had given ground on other parts of the Bill because ministers had ‘recognised the strength of feeling’ expressed by peers.

The slew of concessions means the plans are now so watered-down from the original proposals that some are questioning their value as a suitable response to the expenses scandal.

MPs in the Commons have already succeeded in voting down some key parts of the Bill which is being rushed through by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary.

Yesterday Mr Straw said that despite the MPs’ expenses scandal, Westminster was ‘very clean and transparent’ compared to politics in many other countries or to the democratic system of previous decades.

He accepted that the expenses row following disclosures by The Daily Telegraph had been ‘profoundly damaging’ for Parliament; but said that politicians in other countries looked on in amazement at the controversy caused in the UK by sums of ‘a few thousand pounds.’

Giving evidence to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Mr Straw also made the surprising statement that Winston Churchill would not have survived the scrutiny MPs are now exposed to.

… (21/07/2009) – New Law Passed To Clean-Up Parliament

… (TimesOnline, 24/08/2009) – MPs hijack expenses enquiry