Bercow Tells MPs To Lobby IPSA Over Claims Rules

(Telegraph) – JOHN BERCOW, the new speaker of the House of Commons, has urged MPs to lobby the new independent body set up to oversee their expenses if they are unhappy with Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations.

In a letter sent to all MPs yesterday, Mr Bercow pledged that MPs will have the ‘chance to express concern about any unintended consequences of the proposed changes.’

The letter will add to fears that MPs may seek to delay and water down the introduction of the reforms recommended by the Kelly inquiry.

It is feared that a ‘public consultation’ on the plans may lead to their introduction being delayed until after the next election despite Sir Christopher warning that they must be brought in within months.

The Government has set up a new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) which is charged with introducing the new system and policing its subsequent operation. The new head of IPSA has pledged to introduce a new scheme in ‘early spring.’

Sir Christopher has urged IPSA to introduce his recommendations in full although some MPs are hoping the scheme will be watered-down by the new authority.

Mr Bercow warned MPs that the public would ‘not look kindly on anything which was perceived as deliberate procrastination.’

However, he said: ‘The procedure for detailed implementation of reform will soon pass to IPSA, which it is assumed will take Sir Christopher’s conclusions as its steer. There will, nonetheless, be a period of public consultation in which members will make contributions.

‘… there is much that can be added to the debate about the practicability of individual measures which the Ipsa will have to contemplate, and there is the chance to express concern about any unintended consequences of the proposed changes.’

Last weekend, Harriet Harman, the leader of the House, indicated that Ipsa may seek to alter some of Sir Christopher’s recommendations.

Yesterday, Ms Harman and Gordon Brown appeared to give their full backing to the Kelly inquiry proposals although Sir Christopher said he had still not been fully reassured.

The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life said that he was ‘mystified’ by Ms Harman’s suggestion that the proposals would be shaped by Ipsa.

‘I think I am fairly reassured. There is always wriggle room, we are talking about politicians after all,’ Sir Christopher said.

He added it would be a ‘shame’ if Ipsa amended his proposals.

Referring to Ms Harman’s comments, Sir Christopher said: ‘I saw those words and I was a bit mystified by what they meant.

‘Technically it is absolutely right: it is not our job to implement the changes; it is the job of the independent authority set up by Parliament.

‘They are independent people and they will make up their own minds. I think it would be a shame if they didn’t realise that what we produced after a lot of discussion with all sorts of people, including many MPs, an exhaustive process of consultation, was a considered and reasonable and proportionate set of proposals.’

Last night, the new head of IPSA appeared to indicate that he would not allow his work to be delayed by MPs.

Sir Ian Kennedy, the chairman-designate, said he would start work ‘immediately.’

The authority will set out its proposals for a new ‘fair and effective’ expenses system in a consultation paper to be approved by its board in early December. He said there would then be a brief period for consultation with the new scheme in place early next spring.

He made clear that the authority will be ready to hear MPs’ concerns during a ‘wide but not time-consuming’ consultation.

Sir Ian said: ‘Let me be clear, this authority is independent — of Parliament, Government and of any other particular interest — and we will be independent in drawing up the proposals and in implementing them.

‘Public faith in Parliament has been severely hit by the events of the last few months and I have no illusions about the scale of the task ahead. It will take time and effort to earn back the trust that has been lost.

‘This work is already under way, and I and my colleagues will ensure that it is taken forward with rigour, pace and objectivity, listening all the way to the public.’