Voters Will Not Be Told If Candidate Is Facing Enquiry

(Telegraph) – VOTERS will have to cast their ballots without knowing if their MPs are being investigated formally for abusing their expenses or position in Parliament, The Daily Telegraph has disclosed.

Dozens of MPs are thought to be under investigation by the parliamentary watchdog, the police and tax authorities – yet their identities are being kept secret.

Last night, John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner, said he would not release the names of the MPs he was investigating, despite pledging to do so earlier this year. Outstanding investigations will now be suspended until after the election.

At least three MPs, one of whom is standing for re-election, are being investigated by the police but their identities will not be officially released.

Dozens of other MPs are facing tax investigations over their expense claims, which could also lead to criminal proceedings. The political parties are now under pressure to admit if they are fielding candidates who face the prospect of official censure.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the parties should make it clear if a candidate was facing an investigation.

“I cannot for the life of me see that if another MP or a member of the public has complained about an MP, it should be a dark secret,” Sir Alistair said. “Democracy is about accountability, and the voters should have the full facts before them.”

Yesterday all three main party leaders unveiled plans to clean up Parliament. Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg pledged to introduce new powers that would lead to MPs facing by-elections if they were found to have broken parliamentary rules.

Mr Brown said: “I believe that we cannot truly master the other big challenges facing our country unless the legitimacy of our democracy is fully restored.”

Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the House, added: “People want change and politicians must become more directly accountable for their actions.”

However, none of the parties is planning to name its MPs under investigation.

Eric Illsley, the Labour MP for Barnsley Central, is the subject of a police inquiry into his expenses claims for council tax. Mr Illsley claimed more than £10,000 for council tax in four years although he had to pay only £3,966 for the Band C property in south London over the same period.

Those facing parliamentary inquiries are thought to include Nadine Dorries, the Tory MP for mid-Bedfordshire, who is being investigated after claiming for a “second home” where she is alleged to spend most of her time. She denies the allegation.

However, Mr Lyon refuses to disclose how many investigations are under way – or the targets of his inquiries. Earlier this year, he pledged to provide this information on a monthly basis, but Parliament had failed to approve the motion that allowed him to do so.

No Second Homes Allowance Under New MPs’ Expenses Regime

(Independent) – MPS WILL BE BARRED from claiming expenses for second homes and will be limited to employing no more than one family member, under new rules unveiled today.

The new expenses scheme for the House of Commons drawn up by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) will come into effect immediately after the general election and will allow MPs only to claim for rented accommodation.

MPs will not be eligible for accommodation expenses if any part of their constituency is within 20 miles of Westminster or inside a 60-minute commute by public transport.

This will bar 128 MPs in the London area from claiming.

MPs will also be banned from claiming for first-class rail journeys, said Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy.

Launching the new system in Westminster today, Sir Ian said the maximum MPs will be allowed to claim for accommodation and constituency office costs each year will be cut from £56,915 to £40,957 for MPs outside the London area and from £40,192 to £26,915 for those in and around the capital.

Sir Ian said: “The new system is fair, workable and transparent. It will enable MPs to carry out the job we ask them to do and will provide reassurance and value for money to the tax-paying public.”

Sir Ian’s scheme rows back in some respects from last year’s review by Sir Christopher Kelly, who recommended a complete ban on employing relatives at taxpayers’ expense.

The one-employee limit will cover not only blood relatives and spouses, but also live-in cohabitees and financial partners.

Sir Ian said: “No longer will MPs benefit from a slack allowances system. This system brings MPs’ expenses into line with those in most other areas of life.

“Expenses will be reimbursed only for legitimate costs, backed up by receipts.”

Sir Ian said the scheme represented a “clear break” with the past.

MPs would only would be paid expenses on the presentation of the proof of payment – “no receipt, no payment”.

Budgets for staff and office expenses would be capped, with payments being made only against “agreed and justified expenditure”.

Sir Ian said the new rules would be operated “entirely transparently”.

“Never again will the public be prevented from seeing how their money is being spent by those who they elect to represent them,” he said.

He said that, in future, there will be no second homes for MPs. Non-London MPs will be able to claim for rented accommodation on the basis of a one-bedroom flat.

Mortgage interest on existing second homes will be paid for a transitional period until August 2012 rather than the five years Ipsa initially recommended in its consultation document.

There will be additional support for MPs who care for children under five, who are single parents caring for a child until 21, or are caring for a child or adult in receipt of additional support form the state.

MPs will no longer be able to claim for the costs of cleaning or gardening.

MPs will not be able to claim for the cost of their daily commute to Westminster although they will be able to claim for travel to, from and within their constituency.

Some subsistence payments, for items such as food, will continue but there will be no automatic £25 for every night spent away from the main home.

Instead MPs will be able to claim up to £15 for an evening meal – with a receipt – if the House sits after 7.30pm.

On leaving Parliament, MPs will receive “winding-up costs” for two months but the one-off resettlement allowance will be scrapped.

Sir Ian said he did not regard this as expenses but as part of an MP’s remuneration. He said that, if Ipsa was subsequently given responsibility for MPs’ pay, it would reconsider the matter.

“It is not our job to punish MPs for past wrongdoings which give the public value for money, allow MPs to do their job and which provide for vigilance against abuse,” he said.

“The new rules will be fair, workable and transparent. This is a tough settlement but a fair one.”

Bob’s Office Expenses To Be Kept Under Wraps Until After The Election

(Telegraph) – HOUSE OF COMMONS authorities were accused of a “cosy stitch up” last night after it emerged that full details of MPs’ expenses claims will not be published until after the general election.

Many MPs had feared that the totals claimed for items including travel, office costs, communications and staff for 2008-09 would be published before polling day, expected to be on 6 May.

It can be revealed, however, that the figures will not be brought out until June, well after the election, meaning voters will not have the chance to assess their MPs’ most recent records in full before making their choice.

The Fees Office – the body criticised for its role in last year’s expenses scandal uncovered by The Telegraph – last week sent each MP the total amounts it proposes to publish for each individual.

MPs then have until 26 April to check the figures and confirm they are accurate.

However, instead of publishing the totals immediately, voters will have to wait at least six further weeks before they see them.

Last night a source close to the Members Estimate Committee, the group of senior MPs with overall control over the allowances system, defended the decision to wait until June before revealing the totals.

The source cited the “huge amount of work” needed to process the tens of thousands of claims by Commons officials and said the previous year’s figures, for 2007-08, had also been brought out in June.

However, campaigners said Commons authorities could easily have speeded up the process this year and said voters had a right to know before polling day.

Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “This sounds like a typically cosy stitch up by the parliamentary authorities. They should be much more open and transparent with the public.

“There remains a great deal of disquiet over expenses and this shows MPs have not learnt the lessons from what has happened.

“Voters have the right to know the full details about their representatives’ allowances and expenses before casting their vote.”

One of the most controversial sets of allowance claims, for MPs’ second homes for 2008-09, was published last year. This has now been abolished, however, in reforms brought in in the wake of the scandal.

This week will see the publication of the final version of the new rules which MPs will have to abide by after the election.

It follows a wide-ranging consultation by the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, chaired by Sir Ian Kennedy.

Under draft proposals last year, MPs would in future only be able to claim rent for second homes outside London, not mortgage repayments.

They would have to provide receipts before any repayments were made and no future claims would be permitted for furnishings or food.

Payouts worth up to £65,000 to MPs who step down are also under threat, as is the communications allowance.

IPSA could also rule this week on whether MPs will continue to be allowed to employ family members, and whether they will be allowed to keep the profits on the sale of their taxpayer-funded second homes, or return them to public funds.

Earlier this month The Sunday Telegraph disclosed that MPs have demanded the right to first-class rail travel because they say they need to be able to work during journeys to and from Westminster.

The pleas were recorded in nearly 50 submissions made by MPs to IPSA’s consultation.

Sir Ian has proposed that they should only be allowed to travel first class in “exceptional circumstances” such as a journey of more than two and a half hours.

MPs To Get Expenses After Leaving Parliament

(Telegraph) – MPS WHO LEAVE PARLIAMENT at the forthcoming election are to be allowed to continue claiming expenses for several months after polling day, following a controversial decision by the Parliamentary authorities.

MPs will be allowed to submit “advance” bills for utilities. Those who have signed rental agreements or other contracts stretching beyond the election will also have their claims paid.

The controversial decision, made at a meeting chaired by the Speaker last week, is expected to leave taxpayers with a bill running into tens of thousands of pounds.

It is the latest evidence that MPs have failed to properly clean-up the expenses system despite the public furore in the wake of the disclosures made by The Daily Telegraph last year.

Last night, Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said:

“It seems the Commons are living in a world of their own. The fundamental principle of expenses should be that only costs that have genuinely been incurred should be reimbursed. This proposal opens the door yet again to potential abuse for those MPs who are retiring or set to lose their seats. The authorities are effectively offering to sign a blank cheque.”

MPs leaving Parliament receive generous “resettlement grants” – worth up to a year’s salary plus money to pay-off staff and other office costs. This money is intended to help MPs meet the costs associated with returning to “normal life” so it is not clear why they have also been given permission to continue claiming expenses.

During the expenses scandal, several MPs including Alistair Darling, the chancellor, had to repay money after submitting advance invoices and then “flipping” their designated second home.

The decision to allow the claims was taken at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission held last week.

The minutes of the meeting record: “…where unavoidable legal and contractual obligations existed (including for a period beyond the election), these would exceptionally be met, and that utility bills, even if covering an advance period, would be paid so long as the bill was dated before the election.”

The House of Commons Commission is chaired by John Bercow who was elected as Speaker last year with a pledge to clean up the expenses system. Other members include Harriet Harman, the leader of the house, and Sir George Young, the shadow leader.

Sir George was previously the head of the Standards Committee which was responsible for overseeing the conduct of MPs.

Yesterday, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, reiterated his pledge to clean up the expenses system.

“We are saying ‘no more paying for food’, ‘no more paying for furniture’, ‘none of the rubbish’…every single thing must be transparent,” he said.

“If they break the rules they will be turfed out of Parliament by their constituents.”

However, Sir George appears to have defied his party leader by regularly claiming the Parliamentary “subsistence” allowance, intended to cover food bills, which is worth up to £25 a night.

The claims are likely to prove embarrassing to Mr Cameron as Sir George is in charge of the Conservative’s policy on expenses. His predecessor, Alan Duncan, was demoted after being secretly recorded complaining that MPs were “forced to live on rations”.

Ministers And Shadow Ministers Renounce MPs’ Pay Rise – But Bob Has Yet To Comment

MPS QUEUED UP to renounce a pay rise worth almost £1,000 today; but Bob Spink, our local MP, has yet to announce where he stands on the issue.

John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, said he would not take the money because it would be “extremely inappropriate” to accept a 1.5% rise, due to kick in next month, in the aftermath of the expenses debacle.

Downing Street also made it clear that ministers would not take the extra money following a recommendation by the Senior Salaries Review Body.

The Conservatives made the same pledge.

Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, and his Treasury spokesman, Vincent Cable, are also understood to be planning to forego the rise.

The 1.5% increase – revealed by the Guardian yesterday – is arrived at by identifying the median of the pay increases received by 15 groups of public sector workers for 2009, and will see MPs’ basic pay rise from £64,766 to £65,737.

Downing Street said ministers had also agreed to freeze their own pay.

A spokeswoman said: “The prime minister is clear that we need to strengthen public confidence in the political system and reduce the cost of politics. That is why paid government ministers will not be accepting the pay rise in MP salaries generated by the annual formula and based on the average pay award across the public sector in the previous year.”

Members of the Conservative party who receive ministerial salaries will have both the ministerial and MP elements of their salaries frozen, according to a Tory spokeswoman.

“If we win the election and form the next government, incoming ministers will inherit the ministerial salaries that the government is setting today – including the MP element. We will then immediately cut them by 5%, and freeze them for a further five years,” she said.

Bob will no doubt inform residents of his own intentions when he holds his ‘Listening Panel,’ tonight, at 7:30pm.

… (Reuters, 09/03/2010) – Voters seek revenge over expenses scandal

‘A damning indictment of brazen dishonesty and greed’

(Telegraph) – SIR THOMAS LEGG’S review of the House of Commons’ additional costs allowance (ACA) is a model of clear thinking. While public attention will focus on the details of the repayments demanded for illegitimate claims – the scale of which confirms that abuse of the system was indeed institutionalised – the real lessons are to be drawn from Sir Thomas’s forensic analysis of how the scandal developed. In essence, it happened because MPs failed to observe the propriety in handling public money that they, as legislators, demand from every other part of the public service. It was not a failure of a system or a process; it was a failure by individual MPs to behave honestly.

This, it is important to stress, does not apply to all MPs. Sir Thomas has found that roughly half the House had “no issues” to answer, although voters will note their collective failure to speak out against abuses. But the other half took advantage of a “flawed” system, which they themselves created, using the ACA not for the reimbursement of costs incurred as part of their duties but as a salary supplement (which they also voted, in the 1983 Finance Act, to make tax-free). Uniquely in the public sector, MPs’ claims were self-certified. More than half of the annual maximum payment of £24,000 could be claimed without an MP being required to produce a receipt of any kind. This placed a particularly heavy duty on them to behave honestly – a responsibility that too many of them shirked.

When they were found out, many members claimed it was the Commons fees office that was responsible for the imbroglio. How many times did we hear the plaintive bleat: “I did everything by the rules.” Sir Thomas is unimpressed. He believes that a “culture of deference” meant that the fees office acted not as a watchdog, but as a facilitator. It was therefore up to the claimants to demonstrate the requisite propriety. Too many did not. Shockingly, there was no proper auditing mechanism to monitor any of this – and still isn’t. Sir Thomas noted that only last year did the House vote to introduce a full audit system; it is still in the process of being created.

Some MPs have complained that Sir Thomas has demanded repayments retrospectively. He has given them short shrift. The wrongful claims, he said, breached the rules and standards in force at the time: “To hold such payments invalid is not to impose new rules retrospectively, but to apply now the rules that were properly in force then, but were overlooked or misunderstood at the time.” He was generous in his wording in that final remark – many would use the phrase “brazenly flouted”. After all, the regulations governing the allowance indicated it could “only be used as reimbursement for specific and proportionate expenditure on accommodation needed for the performance of Parliamentary duties”. That is hardly difficult to understand.

Without this [the Daily Telegraph’s] newspaper’s series of exposés last summer, this rotten state of affairs would not have been revealed. Yet despite the wrongdoing we uncovered, there remains a feeling among many at Westminster that MPs are somehow the victims in this sorry business. There are even signs of a backlash by the Commons machine – for example, the new mechanism for viewing MPs’ claims is more confusing than the old one.

To his credit, David Cameron was swift to grasp the true implications of the scandal and to take action: he is still resented by some of his backbenchers for what they regard as the brusque way he treated them. Gordon Brown’s performance, however, has been less praiseworthy. Indeed, it was the Prime Minister who gave his MPs the green light, in July 2008, to vote down proposals to reform the expenses system (he himself did not even bother to vote). This wrecked the last opportunity MPs had to put their own House in order, before change was forced upon them by an enraged public.

Yesterday, Sir Thomas said that he has submitted his report “in the hope that it will contribute to restoring full public confidence in Members of Parliament, thus enabling the House of Commons to move forward with confidence in its vital role as the democratically elected and leading branch of our national legislature”. In that single sentence, he distilled the real import of this scandal. It was not just that it exposed the dishonesty and greed of many MPs; it has also done untold damage to our democracy, which only the election of a new parliament can repair. Our lingering worry, however, is that this wretched business has prompted such widespread disgust with all politicians that many will simply turn their backs on the political process. That is a terrible price to pay for fiddled expenses.

No Congratulations Are Warranted

TODAY I RECEIVED a number of emails congratulating me for my persistence over the Spink expenses affair and expressing some satisfaction that, at least, Legg had ensured the money had been paid back.

The emails were in response to a report by the House Of Commons Members’ Estimate Committee (composed of a number of serious expense ‘over-claimants’), which detailed MP repayments concerning their ACA claims.

Among them were these details for Spink:-

Dr Spink was paid £2,051.38 twice for service/maintenance charges in January – June 2008.
Total repayment recommended: £2,051.38
Total repayments received since 1 April 2009: £2,401.88

Unfortunately, these repayments have nothing to do with Spink’s fraudulent claims regarding his office expenses, exposed on this blog, which Spink continues to ignore.

The nearest I can get to his position on the matter is that his over-claims are irrelevant – since there are many other things that he pays for and, although fully entitled to, he does not always claim.

To date he has never provided any details of these ‘other things’ and refuses to speak about the matter.

So no congratulations are in order. The Spink expenses affair is still unresolved – and that page will not go away.

There is still the other small matter of his most recent expenses – and we still await the publication of his office expenses for this year.

It is obviously in Spink’s own interest to confuse these two separate amounts in voters’ minds. The £2,401.88 that he has been forced to repay and the £2,425.86 that remains outstanding from his office claims.

Spink would like you to believe that the issue has been resolved – and his smokescreen does seem to have caught-out my generous correspondents this morning.

But don’t be taken in…