Wednesday 5 March 2008 at 3.30pm in Speaker’s House
Sir Stuart Bell MP
Nick Harvey MP
David Maclean MP
In the absence of the Speaker, Mr Nick Harvey MP was called to the chair.
MEETING WITH THE ADVISORY PANEL ON MEMBERS’ ALLOWANCES:
JOHN SPELLAR MP, ALISTAIR CARMICHAEL MP,
TOMMY MCAVOY MP AND JOHN RANDALL MP
It was confirmed that the MEC would consider again at its meeting on 10 March the SSRB recommendations on the staffing allowance referred by the House on 24 January with a view to informing Members of the timing and administration of those recommendations. The Advisory Panel had not discussed the SSRB recommendation on the differential pay level for staff working in London which went against the view the House had taken on this matter in 2004. Members agreed that there was a case for recommending to the House that the SSRB proposals on the staffing allowance should not be implemented in respect of differential pay rates between staff working in London and elsewhere.
It was noted that MEC intended to recommend that the limit for unreceipted expenditure per item should be £25 and the level of petty cash to be drawn each month should be reduced to £50.
ADDITIONAL COSTS ALLOWANCE
Various options were discussed:
- Abolish the Additional Costs Allowance and add to salary a sum to fund accommodation for Members having to work in two places.
- Lump sum daily subsistence as formerly used for civil servants.
- Dividing current ACA totals by the number of sitting days and creating a daily allowance for accommodation.
Matters to be taken into account included the tax position, whether food should be deducted from ACA and whether there should be a more graduated transition between the London allowance and the ACA. It was noted that some new Members in particular were questioning why public funds should be used to enable Members to acquire an interest in property in London. It was reported that the Scottish Parliament’s review of allowances was expected to recommend that any capital gain arising from purchase of property should be repaid to the tax payer. It was recognised that there was an anomaly between homes that should be declared as second homes for the purposes of the allowance system and those treated as second homes for the purpose of the capital gains tax.
It was agreed that a better mechanism was needed for challenging questionable claims. Perhaps there should be an internal body with greater authority than the Fees Office, to ensure that such issues were resolved without disproportionate trouble.
It was also agreed that any new arrangements might have to have some transitional elements.
CENTRAL FUNDING OF CONSTITUENCY OFFICES
The opinions of Members should be sought on this SSRB recommendation.
SSRB RECOMMENDATIONS ON THE IEP
It was noted that the SSRB recommended reduction of the IEP to reflect central funding of offices, the introduction of the Communications Allowance and the location of staff in London. It was noted that this could potentially create quite a number of losers.
It was noted that there may be tax implications of extending the current scheme to partners.
The APMA supported the simpler approach recommended by the Standards and Privileges Committee including that all publicity funded by the allowance should be cleared in advance by the Fees Office. It was agreed that as many of the Standards and Privileges Committee recommendations as possible should be implemented. It was also agreed that, as the SSRB recommended, the uprating should be RPIX not RDI.
The view was expressed that the SSRB had underestimated the uncertainty of parliamentary life and the impact on Members after normal retirement age.
WINDING UP ALLOWANCE
It was noted that the SSRB recommendations were based on changes to other allowances.
NOMENCLATURE OF ALLOWANCES
It was agreed that the allowances should be called expenses, as recommended by the SSRB.
CENTRAL EMPLOYMENT OF STAFF
It was noted that generally Members were not in favour of central employment of staff but there would be some advantages in terms of making clear that the staff costs were not personally attributable to Members. It was agreed that the GLA system should be investigated. It was recognised that Members would have to retain the central elements of control such as appointment, pay parameters and performance. MEC would take wider soundings on this. It was noted that if Members staff were employed by the House the case for open competition for appointments and the application of equal opportunity legislation would be put forward.
SINGLE TRAVEL GRANT
The possibility of having a single taxable fixed travel grant based on distance from London and the size of constituency should be investigated.
EMPLOYMENT OF SPOUSES
APMA reported that they had written to the Standards and Privileges Committee commenting on the recommendations for registration of family members paid from the staffing allowance.