To enable MPs to do their work representing their constituents effectively, there needs to be an allowance system. The public are entitled to be confident that that the allowance regime is fair and reasonable and effectively enforced.
Agreed. We can all agree on motherhood and apple pie.
The Prime Minister has asked Sir Christopher Kelly and the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at all of the relevant issues involved in MPs' allowances as speedily as possible.
OK, so perhaps we should wait for him to issue his report? Or...
In the meantime the Government thinks it is right to bring forward reforms that can be enacted sooner.
So what was the point of his report then? I imagine he feels he has been made to look a fool.
We will therefore be asking the House of Commons to support the following proposals, which will reduce the cost to the taxpayer:
A. Flat-rate Allowance. We propose that, for MPs representing constituencies outside London, the Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure (commonly known as the 'second home' allowance) should be abolished and be replaced by a flat-rate daily allowance, based on actual attendance at Westminster on parliamentary and government business or the business of the Opposition frontbenches. This will be limited to the Parliamentary session or a maximum number of days.
So what about when MPs visit the Commons in the parliamentary recess? Most of them do. Is that not classified as working, just because Parliament is not in session? What will the maximum number of days be? What will the rate be? John Mann says £127.50 and others have mentioned £170. Which is it to be? Will MPs on foreign trips still be able to make a daily claim? They could legitimately argue they are on parliamentary business, after all.
There will now be no second home allowance or claims for food, furniture and fittings, fuel, mortgage interest, rent or council tax.
So the daily rate can be claimed by MPs even if they don't need it. How on earth can that be justified? One MP I know currently claims less than £8,000. Under this new system he will be allowed to claim up to £25,500 if the daily rate is £170 and the number of days is 150.
We will ask the Senior Salaries Review Body to set the appropriate level of allowance independently, comparable to those set by wider public and private institutions. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will want to consider these issues going forward, including the issue of taxation. Provision will be made for the long-term ill and maternity leave. The claims by each Member should be published annually.
All well and good, but this rather proves that this statement is jumping the gun.
B. London. For anyone representing constituencies within reasonable distance of Westminster, the Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure will be replaced by the London supplement, which already applies to inner London MPs. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will of course want to look at the current Green Book rules on this and the SSRB should report on the level of the allowance.
Might be helpful to define "reasonable distance". Travelling time? Distance? Practicality of getting home?
C. Grace and Favour homes. Ministers who for security or other reasons live in so-called 'grace and favour' homes will continue to pay council tax and tax on the benefit of living in this accommodation but will not receive this new allowance. The Committee on Standards in Public Life should be asked to report on these arrangements.
A statement of the bleedin' obvious.
D. MPs' Staff. In future all staff appointed by MPs without exception should become direct employees of the House of Commons, which would become centrally responsible for their employment terms and conditions, their contracts, and the payment of their salaries within the limit allowed - and will have the right to make an independent assessment of such contracts. The Committee on Standards in Public Life is examining the rules governing employment of spouses or other relatives.
Does this include staff who work for MPs but are actually paid for by their parties? Can't see why it should.
E. Full receipts. There will be a requirement for receipts for claims for all remaining transactions (for office costs, travel, and communications), including those under £25. MPs' claims will be subject to independent audit by the National Audit Office.
Good. Join the club.
F. Transparency of MPs' Second Incomes. The Prime Minister has already asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look into the issue of MPs and second jobs, in order to avoid conflicts of interest and to reflect the fact that MPs receive a parliamentary salary for a full time job. Meanwhile, there should be greater transparency.
And this means what exactly? The current system provides for full transparency.
This government has been the first to publish a list of Ministers' interests.
Where Members of Parliament have a second source of income from second jobs, irrespective of whether it is in their capacity as an MP, every payment shall be declared with a full description of who paid and what for. There shall also be a full declaration of the hours worked for the payment received.
This is known as the "let's get at the Tories" clause". The last sentence is preposterous.
G . Pensions. We have taken steps through the SSRB to reform MPs' pension arrangements. In the meantime, in order to contain the cost to the public purse, a proposal will be put before Parliament to increase the contribution required from MPs by around £60 per month for the current year and to extend the scheme's pension limit of two thirds of final salary to all scheme members for future service.
H. We will ask the Committee on Standards in Public Life to look at the circumstances applying in Northern Ireland before final application of the flat rate allowance for MPs representing Northern Ireland.
Outrageous. Are we United Kingdom or not? Do we want two classes of MPs? Betty Boothroyd declared that there is no Associate Membership of the House of Commons and she was right.
I hope that with the support of the whole House we could implement the majority of these proposals in time for 1 July. My Rt Hon Friend the Prime Minister has offered to meet with the leaders of the main Opposition Parties to discuss them. The Committee on Standards in Public Life will report their views in due course, which of course we will consider seriously, but we should implement as many interim changes as possible without delay."
I have to say I think this is a deeply divisive political move by the Prime Minister. He is trying to force the other party leaders into a corner. They shouldn't fall for it. There are one or two sensible ideas here which can be worked on, but several of the proposals will not stand scrutiny and were clearly dreamt up in about five minutes. it won't take too much time before they unravel.
UPDATE: Nick Clegg has described the attendance allowance as "Bringing the Brussels gravy train to Westminster is not the way to fix our expenses system". He's right.