Wednesday 26 March 2008 at 9.30am in Speaker's House
Sir Stuart Bell MP
Nick Harvey MP
David Maclean MP
In the absence of the Speaker, David Maclean was called to the Chair.
The Committee met with Sir Christopher Kelly, Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to discuss the review of allowances.
Sir Christopher Kelly said that the CSPL was working on some basic principles drawing on the seven principles of public life as well as the Members' Code of Conduct. They did not expect at this stage to be able to make detailed comments on particular allowances. He recognised that the MEC faced a near impossible task bridging the expectations of colleagues and of the public. The CSPL were willing to help if asked.
Continuing, Sir Christopher said that the principles would be structured to emphasise the necessary separation between pay, expenses and the provision of resources. There was no current CSPL view on the "right" level of Members' salaries. He thought that most members of the public would probably say if asked that MPs were paid enough already. But you might get a different answer if you asked how MPs should be paid relative to eg GPs or head teachers of substantial schools, both of which now tended to be paid more. He was not impressed with the idea of simply transferring the Additional Costs Allowance into salary and saw scope for tightening up on the Communications Allowance. Radical tightening of allowances generally might strengthen the case for better pay for Members. Sir Christopher expected the CSPL to publish its principles in relation to Members' allowances very soon but thought it was unlikely that the CSPL would want at this stage to comment on the detail of individual allowances, largely because they would not have taken formal evidence on the subject in the context of a full inquiry.
On matters of detail, Sir Christopher continued that he was aware of concern about the risks involved in the cross subsidy between parliamentary and party activities and the lack of control over the use of the CA. A distinction could be drawn between actually handing in receipts and keeping them to make them available for subsequent audit. In presentational terms, contracting out internal audit might have its advantages. The equipment for which reimbursement could be claimed under the John Lewis list gave rise to public perception of personal benefit, not least that it was possible for Members to move equipment between their second home and their main home. There was a case for saying furniture for second homes should not be provided through the Additional Costs Allowance.
Concluding, Sir Christopher said the CSPL was keen to stress the importance of Members' responsibility for making the system in a way that commanded public trust; the Committee was minded to include a principle that clearly went beyond "the system" itself, namely that just because something was possible within the rules did not mean that it was always right to claim for it.
At 10.30am they met with Sir Michael Spicer MP (Chair), Mr Richard Ottaway MP and Mr John Whittingdale MP of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs.