Wednesday 7 May 2008 at 9.30am in Speaker's House
Sir Stuart Bell MP
Nick Harvey MP
Mr David Maclean MP
In the absence of the Speaker, Sir Stuart Bell MP was called to the chair.
The Committee met with the Parliamentary Labour Party: Tony Lloyd MPChairman, Don Touhig MP, Kevin Jones MP and Helen Jones MP
Opening the meeting, Sir Stuart Bell said that the MEC was planning to publish its emerging conclusions by the end of May. Tony Lloyd said that Members of the PLP felt that all the issues related to pay and allowances should be resolved in the debate in July. They had considered the issue of consolidating allowances into salary but agreed that it was difficult to sustain this argument. There was a case for a daily rate for housing and miscellaneous expenses based roughly on the number of sitting days. This would be simple to administer and understand. The information about the housing element would be fully audited and disclosed. It would be helpful to have an automatic uprating mechanism. On other allowances, the PLP felt the office costs and travel allowance were fairly straightforward.
In discussion the following points were made:
- A daily rate would not be based on proof of actual attendance since Members' other duties either in the constituency or on non-sitting days would be complicated to record. Members should have to prove the existence of their second home and it would be up to Members to claim less than the full amount if they did not need it.
- A spot audit of Members' claims was now desirable. Most Members would have nothing to fear from a spot audit.
- There should be greater clarity about the work of the Fees Office which now appeared to be checking receipts down to individual items.
- Members would have to justify anything they had appeared to have spent under a daily allowance and would have to keep their own accounts specifying what purposes public money had been spent on.
- Such an allowance might be paid monthly with Members opting to claim less if they wished.
- The system should not be driven by the needs of those who have abused it. Most MPs were perfectly straightforward in their claims and newer MPs often had to subsidise their expensive London living costs out of their salary. Members would be content for the auditor to check their mortgage agreement so it should not be necessary for each single minor receipt to be submitted. There should be a responsibility on Members to keep their own records and accounts.
- The Fees Office should avoid spending too much energy on minor claims. The administrative cost of the claims system should be considered.
- It would be helpful if MEC did provide some guidance about food claims.
- If the ACA was divided into a daily housing allowance and a small allowance of about £30 for miscellaneous out of pocket expenditure this would be administratively simple and straightforward.
- London MPs should be able to claim such a daily allowance which might for instance enable them to take taxis home to their only home late at night.
- Any changes to the eligibility of outer London Members for the ACA should be phased in over a period of time.
- A new validation on quality assurance scheme would have to be backed up by a graduated series of sanctions. Members of PLP were not keen on the idea of central employment of staff because there was it was important for Members to be involved in the selection and direction of their staff even if the contract was registered with the House. There was scope for tidying up the staff job descriptions and pay rates but staff were reluctant to have their own salaries made public because they are private citizens. There were mixed views in the PLP about constituency offices being funded centrally and recognition that there was an imbalance between the provision of free office space at Westminster and the need for it in the constituency.
Sir Stuart Bell thanked Mr Lloyd and his colleagues for their helpful advice.