Kelly Warns IPSA: ‘Don’t dilute reforms’

(Telegraph) – THE WHITEHALL SLEAZE WATCHDOG, Sir Christopher Kelly, has issued a formal warning that attempts to water down reforms to the discredited MPs’ expenses regime are “unacceptable”.

Sir Christopher has written to the new Parliamentary regulators insisting that MPs should be forced to hand back profits on the sale of taxpayer-funded second homes.

He is also pushing for MPs to be barred from employing family members and from keeping valuable electronic equipment bought using public funds.

The watchdog criticised plans to allow MPs commuting to Westminster to claim for second homes, saying the proposal was even “more generous” than the current lax rules.

Sir Christopher has intervened after the new Parliamentary regulator, Sir Ian Kennedy, published proposals which would allow MPs to continue profiting from their taxpayer-funded expenses. The chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life also launched an attack on political leaders for failing to avert the expenses scandal.

“In the early stages [of the scandal] there was a distinct failure of leadership in the House [of Commons] and in the political parties in dealing with the situation,” he said.

He described the expenses system as “dishonest” and said MPs attempted to hide their behaviour from the public.

Sir Christopher called on MPs to change the culture of Parliament by showing “personal values reinforced in everyday behaviour”.

The watchdog spent more than seven months drawing up detailed plans to reform the Parliamentary expenses system after the scandal was exposed by The Daily Telegraph.

His plans were welcomed by the leaders of all three main political parties.

However, Sir Ian – the head of the recently established Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which is charged with policing the new system – decided to start his own consultation and has announced several changes to the proposed reforms.

Last night, Sir Christopher said people would be “surprised” that his reforms were being reconsidered. He said several of the proposed changes to his blueprint would be “unacceptable”.

In a detailed 11-page response to Sir Ian, Sir Christopher said:-

MPs should be forced to repay any profits made after November 2009 from the sale of taxpayer-funded properties.

They would be allowed to claim mortgage interest for up to five more years – after which point they would only be able to claim to rent a property, under Sir Christopher’s reforms.

IPSA said although mortgage interest claims should be scrapped, MPs should be able to keep profits made during the “transition period”.

Sir Christopher responds: “[We] concluded that continued support for mortgage interest for a transitional period for those MPs currently receiving it should be accompanied by the claw back of any capital gain made over this period.

“Without claw back, we find it much harder to justify the continuation even for a transitional period of a practice now deemed to be unacceptable.”

Sir Christopher also recommended that MPs living within a 60-minute commute of London should not be able to claim for a second home.

IPSA proposed that only those within the London public transport network would be excluded.

Sir Christopher also wants MPs to be banned from employing family members.

Although IPSA is thought to back such a ban, it has asked MPs for alternative views, indicating that it may water down the proposal.

Sir Christopher said this would not be acceptable and said IPSA also needed to broaden the definition of “family members” to include unmarried partners.

He has also proposed that MPs should have to return equipment bought using their office allowances, including digital cameras and other items.

IPSA said that such equipment could be kept by MPs.

Sir Ian is expected to come under pressure to change his watered-down proposals in the next few weeks.

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.’

Sir Ian Kennedy To Launch Own Consultation On Facebook

(Telegraph) – PROFESSOR SIR IAN KENNEDY, head of the new expenses watchdog, is to launch his own consultation on the discredited system of Commons allowances on the social networking site Facebook.

The move amounts to a direct challenge to Sir Christopher Kelly, whose Standards Committee drew up a series of proposals that were meant to clean up Westminster.

Sir Ian, who was warned on Sunday it would be ‘unwise’ to water down the proposed reforms, is said to feel that using the internet and other mainstream media, including radio phone-in programmes, will be more effective than the public hearing system used by Sir Christopher.

There was dismay last week when Sir Ian, head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, told insiders he would effectively tear up the Kelly reforms and formulate his own expenses regime.

William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, called on him to think again as it emerged that Sir Christopher would meet Sir Ian this week to discuss the decision to drop parts of his report.

He is said to be ‘very surprised’ that Sir Ian wants to ditch plans to ban MPs employing relatives as well as demands that they return profits on second homes.

The Kelly reforms were unveiled on Wednesday, only hours before Sir Ian’s appointment, and were expected to draw a line under the expenses scandal.

Dumb Political Arrogance

HOPES THAT THE LONG AWAITED KELLY REPORT would put an end to the abominable political corruption exposed by The Telegraph and Britain’s Press have finally been dashed by the former’s revelations regarding Sir Ian Kennedy, the man appointed to become the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) chairman.

It should not come as a surprise.

If nothing else, corrupt banana republic regimes have taught us that all power corrupts, and that the appointment of family members and ‘friends’ to seats of power is the proven means of undermining democracy to ensure personal gain from an unsuspecting electorate.

This week the voters finally woke-up to the fact that such things really can happen in modern Britain — in the very seat of Democracy itself. And they also woke-up to the fact that, under the current system, there is nothing they can do to prevent it.

The system needs to change; but that can only happen through Parliament. It can only happen through British voters exercising their democratic right at the polls in May to ensure all corrupt politicians are dismissed and a new breed of honourable politicians, regardless of political party, are elected to represent them.

But, above all else, all political parties need to adopt a US-style of open primaries, recently introduced by the Conservative party, for the local electorate to choose parliamentary candidates — and to provide those same voters with a means of recalling, and dismissing, an errant MP.

The public should not have to wait for a general election to replace a corrupt or ineffective individual — and parties should not be able to disassociate themselves from those whom have been elected in their name by simply withdrawing the whip. When a party whip is withdrawn, or an individual MP resigns from a particular party, it should immediately give rise to a bye-election.

These are all simple measures that the political parties could adopt now to ensure the re-establishment of Democracy in this country. MPs represent, and work, for their constituents — and the system needs to recognise this.

In a Parliament that has seen the Conservative Party dump an odious MP upon Castle Point residents — and not once offer an apology or help rectify the situation — and in a week when that same MP has sought to distract attention from his own misdoings by publicly backing Kelly and choosing to ask three questions (of the Secretary of State for the Home Department; the Secretary of State for Defence and the Secretary of State for Health): ‘how many employees of his Department have been convicted of an offence of fraud in each of the last 10 years’ to bolster his statistics and give the impression he is ‘whiter than white;’ and in a week when he apparently gives further indication of his arrogance towards the British Public and its Law by failing to prove his occupancy to collect a package from Citi-Link — this has not been a good period for British politics.

These are dangerous times. In a country inundated with new immigrants and without the means to house even its own indigents, its political class has chosen to play directly into the terroists’ hands. People no longer trust any politician; they balk at the loss of British lives in Afghanistan to sustain a corrupt government and ask why we are conducting a war against the Taliban when it is al-Qaeda that is the enemy. ‘Maybe the Taliban have a point,’ I heard one local youth saying. ‘Perhaps we need our own “taliban” to take-out all those f—–g MPs.’

Disenfranchised; unable to find a job; forced to live in over-crowded accommodation and with no role-models other than two-dimensional celebrities and ‘bugger the people’ politicians, it is no wonder that some local youths express their frustration by running amok. And where, in all this chaos, are the Town Councillors and prospective parliamentary candidates who wish us to vote for them in the next election?

Hugging the trench wall and willing others to be first ‘over the top’ — that is where.

In a week that has been a watershed in British politics: both parliamentary candidates have proved themselves to be nothing more than adherents to their party whips who wish to remain silent on the Kelly issues. Neither has chosen to speak-out on the matter or indicate where they stand.

On her blog on 28 October, Rebecca Harris displayed her own political naivety by writing this:-

Across the country, and in Castle Point, there is an opportunity for a new, fresh start. A different kind of politics. That’s because whichever political Party wins the next General Election, the House of Commons will look and feel a very different place. We now know there will be a massive clear-out and the whole system will have had a root and branch reform.

And Julian Ware-Lane showed just how out-of-touch he was with public opinion by saying this on my personal blog:-

Although I am aghast at some of the claims made, and there was no doubting the strength of feeling amongst voters in many constituencies, I do not believe it [the expenses scandal] will be the major issue in the forthcoming General Election. That distinction, in my humble opinion, belongs to the economy.

The same old message. The same old political spin.

What the candidates need to realise is that the country is not run by politicians. It is run by qualified civil servants who advise politicians of their options and the best course of action to take.

We do not need the same old politics. We need individuals who can take part in civilised debate and take decisions based upon their constituent’s needs and the common good. All they need to do is examine, and choose between the options that are placed before them — as has been exemplified by the majority in our Borough Council.

In local councils, up and down the country, there are honourable, experienced politicians whom have a track record that can be examined by the electorate. And it is those individuals that the country needs now to re-take parliament for the people.

If you want to take back your Parliament; if you want to take back your country: you need to get involved.

If you want to make a difference: make a start now by following those shortcuts in this blog’s Campaign Links panel (in the left-hand column).

It really is up to us…

Sir Ian Kennedy To Scrap Kelly Report

(Telegraph) – IT HAS EMERGED THAT SIR IAN KENNEDY PLANS TO RIP-UP THE PROPOSED REFORMS to the discredited system of Commons allowances put forward earlier this week by Sir Christopher Kelly.

Professor Sir Ian Kennedy, the head of the independent watchdog charged with reforming MPs’ expenses and restoring public trust in Parliament, is a close friend of Alastair Campbell.

Sir Ian has close links to Tony Blair’s former official spokesman, The Daily Telegraph disclosed.

So close is Sir Ian, the new head of the Independent Parliament Standards Authority (IPSA), to Mr Campbell that he helped advise him on his appearance before the Hutton Inquiry into the death of David Kelly, the government scientist.

He also holidayed with Mr Campbell, was even the spin doctor’s ‘phone a friend’ on a celebrity episode of the television quiz show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Mr Campbell still regularly advises Number 10 and is highly likely to be part of the central Labour strategy team aiming for a fourth general election victory.

Sir Ian’s close relationship with one of the key architects of New Labour is certain to raise questions about his independence. It can also be disclosed that he was a guest at Chequers of former Prime Minister Mr Blair.

As head of IPSA he is set to get unprecedented powers to set MPs’ salaries, pensions and expenses.

He was picked for the £100,000 a year job by a Government-appointed panel, whose decision was then approved by John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, and a committee of senior MPs.

Sir Ian’s appointment was announced on Wednesday, moments before Sir Christopher’s sweeping review of MPs’ expenses was presented.

Party leaders and Sir Christopher praised his selection, while Mr Bercow told MPs: ‘We are fortunate to have such an eminent candidate for this important post.’

However, David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties, will almost certainly not have been aware of Sir Ian’s links to the New Labour establishment when welcoming his appointment.

Mr Campbell’s diaries show that as well as helping the spin doctor on the popular quiz show, Sir Ian has holidayed in the South of France with Mr Campbell and his family, at the same time as Neil Kinnock, the former Labour leader, Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair’s former chief of staff and Philip Gould, the pollster.

In addition to Sir Ian’s links to Labour, the opposition leaders are likely to be alarmed at his decision to effectively scrap the Kelly report and hold his own consultation into the future expenses regime.

The seven-month review resulted in a comprehensive report encompassing 60 recommendations which Sir Christopher said should be ‘handed over to the new regulatory body for implementation in full.’

All of the party leaders also called on IPSA to implement the Kelly report in full.

When he unveiled his report, Sir Christopher called for the rapid implementation of all his reforms, saying: ‘There is a risk that, as the impact of the revulsion caused by the Daily Telegraph revelation fades with time, some may be thinking of distancing themselves from their earlier expressed determination to implement our report in full. If so, that would, in my view, be an error.’

However, in a direct riposte to Sir Christopher, Sir Ian has told Westminster insiders that the Kelly report was ‘only one of the bases of the conversation’ into the future of MPs allowances.

He added that, according to the legislation under which IPSA was founded, there was ‘no obligation to implement’ Kelly and it was ‘merely his [Sir Christopher’s] assumption’ that it would be.

He is said to feel that Sir Christopher’s lengthy inquiry, which included more than 1,000 witness statements and nine public hearings, was not a ‘proper’ consultation.

In particular, he has told officials that he is unhappy with proposed reforms which would ban MPs from employing relatives, and require those who made profits from the sale of second homes to hand it over to the taxpayer.

In another direct challenge to Kelly, Sir Ian has also said that there is ‘no appetite’ for legislation, meaning that he does not immediately plan to adopt the Committee’s call for the setting of MPs’ pay.

Sir Ian, a medical ethics lawyer who chaired the inquiry into the Bristol heart babies surgery scandal, was selected by a Government-appointed panel. That decision was then approved by a committee chaired by Mr Bercow, who owes his position as Speaker to the support of Labour MPs.

His close relationship with Mr Campbell is documented in the exhaustive diaries that the former spin doctor published after he left Number 10.

In his diary entry for 7 August 2003, Mr Campbell was preparing to give evidence to the inquiry which had been ordered after the death of Dr David Kelly.

In France with his family and friends, he writes: ‘We had dinner in Malaucène with Ian and Andrea Kennedy. I was looking forward to getting some hard-headed and objective advice from Ian about how to approach it [the Hutton inquiry].’

A day later he adds: ‘Ian got hold of Alan Maclean, who had been one of his legal team for the Bristol inquiry, and made arrangements for him to come out next week.’

Mr Campbell stood down as Mr Blair’s adviser that summer. But, when Lord Hutton reported in January 2004, he exonerated Mr Campbell and blamed the BBC for causing a meltdown at the corporation.

In February 2004, Sir Ian was to be a guest at Chequers with his wife Andrea.

A year later, he was the friend that Mr Campbell called on an ill-fated appearance he made on a charity edition of the TV game show Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

Sir Ian was involved in the question that scuppered Mr Campbell and his wife’s chances. They were asked: which country launched the Skylab space station in 1973? At that point he phoned his friend, Sir Ian, who thought it was France but was not certain. The couple then took their last lifeline and went 50-50.

They were given the option of France and America and chose France. Host Chris Tarrant told him: ‘You had £8,000. You’ve just lost £7,000.’

The revelation of the closeness of the new man to Number 10 comes as the revolt against the new expenses regime continues to build.

On Friday Julie Kirkbride, one of the highest profile MPs to announce they were standing down over questionable expenses claims announced she had changed her mind and wanted to remain an MP.

It came as MPs continued to try to argue against what they see as unjust changes to their regime.

The BBC allowed an MP to appear anonymously on its flagship radio programme Today to bitterly attack Sir Christopher’s proposals and the expenses expose in general.

With the voice of a male actor to disguise the identity, the MP said ‘Just when we needed a wise influence to restore some sense into this whole affair the small-minded Kelly has poisoned it more.’

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.’

Senior MPs Push For Bumper Pay-Rise After Expenses Cut

(Telegraph) – SENIOR MPS HAVE BEGUN TO LOBBY for a sharp increase in their salaries to compensate for the loss of generous parliamentary expenses ordered by Sir Christopher Kelly.

Within hours of Sir Christopher announcing radical proposals to ensure that MPs no longer profited from their expenses, some called for allowances to be scrapped and replaced with a higher basic salary. This could see pay for a back-bench MP rise from almost £65,000 a year to more than £80,000.

Sir Christopher, the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said that a pay rise ‘would be a totally wrong way of looking at things.’

In his long-awaited report into MPs’ expenses — ordered after The Daily Telegraph’s disclosures of systematic milking of the allowance system — the former Whitehall mandarin called for MPs to be banned from employing family members, from claiming for mortgages on second homes and from claiming for cleaning, gardening, furniture and electrical appliances.

He also proposed that the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) set pay for MPs, rather than Members themselves.

Many MPs appeared to believe that the authority would be prepared to increase their salary as part of a new simplified system, with above-inflation increases over the next few years to put them on a par with senior public sector workers. Sir Stuart Bell, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough who sits on the Members Estimate Committee, which previously oversaw MPs’ pay and allowances, said the new independent body should merge expenses with pay.

This was important, he said, ‘so that in the longer term we can marry pay structures with allowances in such a way that the dreadful allowance system is abolished for all time.’

He added: ‘I do think we should look at pay in relation to allowances and put ourselves in a situation where MPs will live on their pay and not have to claim any allowances at all, other than travel.’

MPs’ anger at Sir Christopher’s recommendations was aggravated by the discovery that the newly-announced chairman of IPSA, Prof Sir Ian Kennedy, is to be paid up to £100,000.

Sir George Young, the shadow leader of the house, said that a pay rise for MPs could be acceptable. Asked whether members could accept a pay rise in the face of public anger he told the BBC: ‘If that is what an independent body decides then I am sure the public will endorse it.’

Sir Christopher was incredulous. ‘I think that [a pay rise] would be a totally wrong way of looking at things,’ he told The Daily Telegraph. ‘Members of the public would look at this suggestion with ridicule. Nothing I have said should be seen as encouragement for that.’

Sir Christopher told MPs that those unhappy with the new system should resign at the forthcoming election. He urged MPs not to seek to alter his recommendations and said that a failure to reform the system would lead to public trust in Parliament being undermined for years to come.

‘There is a risk that, as the impact of the revulsion caused by The Daily Telegraph revelation fades with time, some may be thinking of distancing themselves from their earlier expressed determination to implement our report in full,’ Sir Christopher said. ‘If so, that would, in my view, be an error. The damage that has been done by what has been revealed about past malpractice and about the culture that goes with it has been very considerable.

‘I don’t believe the trust in those who govern us will be restored unless those in authority show leadership and determination in putting the abuses of the past behind them, however uncomfortable that may be.’