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.

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.

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.’

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.