Decisions

Wednesday 20 February 2008 at 4.30pm in Speaker's House

Present:

Sir Stuart Bell
Nick Harvey
Mr David Maclean

In the absence of the Speaker, Sir Stuart Bell was called to the chair.

CLAIMS AND AUDIT

It was noted that in the recent Information Tribunal case on ACA claims, the Green Book was described as inadequate for the purpose of inspiring public confidence because its style was advisory rather than mandatory.

The Committee agreed that a new system for claims and audit should provide assurance by including both proactive validation of claims and external validation of the process. The possibility of using private firms of accountants for such proactive validation should be considered.

It was also agreed to consider whether the advice available to Members on the Communications Allowance should be modelled on the quality and consistency of the advice provided by the Table Office on the tabling of questions and motions.

The Committee agreed that the Department of Resources should investigate the possibility of making some immediate changes to the claims system from the start of the next financial year.

ROOT AND BRANCH

It was agreed that the review should aim to produce a new system for pay and allowances which would endure well into the future. Among the possibilities to be considered were:

  • Whether Members' staff should be employed centrally by the House

  • Whether the Additional Costs Allowance should be converted into a daily subsistence rate at neutral cost and possibly taxable

  • (As an illustration rather than a firm option), what the implications would be of consolidating into the salary a sum to reflect the need to maintain a second home (equivalent to the ACA)

  • The practicalities of the SSRB recommendation on funding centrally a constituency office

  • The implications of a single travel grant based on the distance from Westminster, possibly without any separate provision for family travel but with staff travel treated as a business expense under other allowances.

It was agreed that the outcome of the review should be cost neutral overall and that no individual Member should experience a substantial change in their financial position.

CONDUCT OF THE REVIEW

The Committee agreed to aim to produce a report in July.

It was agreed to hold informal meetings soon with the Advisory Panel on Members' Allowances (APMA), the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the 1922 Committee, Sir John Baker (SSRB), Sir Chris Kelly (Committee on Standards in Public Life), the NAO, HMRC, an accountancy firm and later with others; and that arrangements for these meetings and contact with those involved should be made directly by the Committee Clerk.

It was agreed that the review should be conducted in as transparent a manner as possible.

The Committee noted that the trustees of the Parliamentary Pension Fund were considering the four recommendations in the SSRB report relating to pensions.

The Committee was assured that sufficient funds were available within existing House budgets to provide all necessary support for the review.

BAKER REVIEW OF PAY MECHANISM

It was noted that the Baker review was expected to consider a new base comparator as well as an uprating formula for MPs' pay.

The Committee agreed that the Department of Resources should undertake work to prepare for a memorandum to the Baker review on a new pay mechanism. This work should include identifying pay comparators and linkages and commissioning a professional survey of Members' workload, skills and responsibilities.

20 February 2008