Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cameron Seizes the Transparency Agenda

David Cameron has done well to grab the political agenda today with his announcement that all frontbenchers will be required to be totally transparent about all their parliamentary allowances.

The announcement says: "All MPs are currently required to submit their expenses to the House of Commons, but only a selection of items are made public. Our “Right To Know” proposals will provide greater transparency by requiring a much higher level of disclosure. Details to be published will include:

* A comprehensive list of staff, their positions, and in which office they work.

* Details of family members employed, including their salary band.

* A breakdown of the 'office running costs' to show what is spent on equipment, office rent, telephones, parliamentary resources unit subscriptions, and other areas.

* A breakdown of the 'cost of staying away from main home' to show whether it is spent on rent, mortgage (interest only), hotels, utilities, maintenance and repairs, council tax or other related expenses.
Cameron said: “All MPs must understand that the public have a right to know more about the use of parliamentary allowances. We need to show greater transparency and I want the Conservative Party to take sensible steps in this direction.”

I wonder if the other two party leaders will follow suit. The only criticism once can reasonably make of this announcement is to question why it only applies to frontbenchers. Could it not be made a precondition of taking the Conservative whip?


Anonymous said...

Also, it's from April onwards - which gives them time to sack their mixed infants and pet gerbils

Man in a Shed said...

David Cameron did well on The Wrold at one on R4 at lunch time.

I suspect the important thing here is about direction of travel. Its quite clear that in the future you will need to demonstrate how Conservative MPs use public money.

I was also pleased with DC's comment on getting the house of commons to be the employer for assistants. That's just common sense, and if they don't do it the the Conservative party should set up a not-for-profit company to employ all MPs assistants and staff.

Harriet Harman was also interviewed after she got to listen to a tap of the DC interview and played the usual shameless naked politics ( thank goodness its radio ). She must have been told to say Conway 10 times at least. The BBC's Martha Kearney - whom normally does better - failed to as Ms Harman about her own sleaze funding scandal.

Anonymous said...

Well, as transparency goes, it's still fairly opaque. Rather like wiping a clear patch on a fogged-up windscreen. Still, I suppose it's a step in the right direction.

Alex said...

The problem with requiring all Conservative MPs to publish details is that it means that the party has to police its MPS more, and there are too many mavericks, particularly amongst the old guard, to enforce it.

Anonymous said...

I'd think that suggestion would be fine after the next election, Iain, but since these MPs have been elected by their constituents on the undestanding that they would be Conservative MPs, it would be difficult to impose something that hadn't been a condition at the last election and might change one of the reasons their electors voted for them.

After the next election I'm sure it'd work fine, but before the election I think we ought to wait and see which backbenchers take it up. I suspect virtually all will - it'd look very bad indeed for them if they didn't.

Anonymous said...

This is just all bollocks!

Its simple! MP's cannot under any circumstances employ a family member. No MP can employ the relative of any other MP.

It will be a criminal offence for any MP to steal taxpayers money by falsification of an expense form, punishable by a minimum of two years custodial sentence.

Hostels would be built, (Hotels could be converted) in one of the less salubrious parts of London, (the real world) MP's would be offered accomodation,(free) if they refuse, they must make their own arrangements.

Anonymous said...

This is a joke… right.

Seems that Cambo is running scared.

What a pathetic attempt to try and head off criticism regarding Tories with their noses in the trough . Conway paying his kids wads of public cash to do nothing, and now Nicholas and Ann Winterton getting thousands for rental on a flat that has no outstanding mortgage.

Cameron’s plan is none compulsory self regulation; the Tory MPs will just do some fancy creative accounting to bend the rules, and we the public will have no real idea how much his back benchers are scamming from the public purse. And they have until April to hide all their skeletons.

Chris Paul said...

Very very disappointing Iain. Don't you think? April 1 was a pretty tardy start. Now we discover they won't report until 1 July. Shadowy cabinet only so wouldn't have caught Conway anyway, or exposed Winterton's legal but immoral wheeze.

Cameron more or less said in his remarks that as MPs pay was perceived as too low his colleagues were simply helping themselves to whatever exes they could swing.

Very disappointing.

Johnny Norfolk said...

The forms are just not good enough. There is far to much still hidden.

They should have the same requirements as any company. MPs food allowance £40 per day

Childs school meal 50p says it all.

Old BE said...

Sorry Iain I think that DC has seized the spin agenda. As Guido points out he hasn't required full disclosure even from his front-benchers. If he really wanted to show that the Tories are different, he needs to force all his MPs to make a full public disclosure and to promise to make them do it every year. He also needs to promise to legislate to force all MPs to do the same when he wins office.

Anonymous said...

Cameron's "tough" stance - it comes in next July - guess how many family and friends of boyfriends will still be on the payroll by then!

They'll be "looked after" until July - that'll give a nice parachute to those whose student loans might otherwise not have lasted until the end of summer term!

Sharp elbows, sharp practice.

Anonymous said...

Harman appears incapable of making an argument without political point scoring and parrotting the "party line" .People tend to just switch off when she does and she does her reputation and standing with the electorate little good by doing so particularly as she has had her own difficulties.
As a Conservative supporter I find Conway's actions totally unacceptable but he's paid a heavy price for his actions and we need to move on from his misfortunes and try and restore the electorate's faith in politicians.

Cameron is at least trying to make a contribution to that process . It's a pity Harman as both Leader of the House and Deputy Chair of the Labour Party appears incapable of doing the same as it's a problem that afflicts all parties and it's a shame that a senior politician such as Harriet Harman's is trying to score petty party points on the matter rather than acknowledging that something similar needs to be done by other major political parties.

asquith said...

Credit to Cameron for this, I reckon. Let's hope it extends to the rest.

Anonymous at 3:02PM, there's no harm in MPs employing relatives per se. It happens a lot in the private sector, and if they work well then it's perfectly justified.

I'm on Blogspot now! :)

Anonymous said...

"man in shed" - Staff are already employed by the House of Commons - we don't get paid by our MP's or their Party; we don't have to be Party members and my political allegiances weren't even questioned.

DC's announcement is a great headliner - but most MP's publish all this information already!

For those of us that work here it is nothing new - but nice to know that we will retain some privacy for the timebeing. In no other publicly paid jobs are anyones salaries specified and I don't see why ours should be either. Most of us are paid well under the going rate and whilst we are happy to work for a pittance I don't really want my friends and family knowing how much I'm paid!

Family members I feel are an exception though and I don't think any of them are that bothered about having to release their salaries if this is the decision that is made.

Anonymous said...

Well he had to do something didn't he, if he had announced anything less than this it would be seen as him perpetuating the problem.

But he has also said that he wants to see allowances removed and rolled in to MP pay...so really he's not all that for transparency after all is he?

Daily Referendum said...

All those critical of Cameron. Ask yourselves what Brown is doing. And as for Michael Martin appointing David Maclean to the investigation, well that's just a sick joke.

Garry said...

In other news:

Dave praised for closing stable door
- Horse unavailable for comment

Anonymous said...

Breathtaking arrogance from the Wintertons - who hid behind their solicitor and accountants - as though the instructions those people were receiving had nothing to do with the pair of them !!

Staggering complacency and showing complete disregard for the views of their constituents about what the spirit of the law regarding expenses, and only reimbursing those which are necessary.

They should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves - but I daresay shame isn't something they possess...

Anonymous said...

Jamie reckons: "In no other publicly paid jobs are anyones salaries specified". I was rather under the impression that for example for starters that the pay for of members of the armed forces was a matter of public record.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to point out to our Labour 'friends' that the parliamentary labour party aren't going to be required to make disclosures of this type until after the report by the members estimates committee. i.e. until after the autumn.
You all howl that Cameron & The Conservatives aren't doing enough, when they are doing considerably more than the PLP.
Harman didn't say anything on the radio, she can't because she's waiting for Brown to make up his mind about the extent to which he's going to copy Cameron.
This is now NuLab's default policy making process. Nick an idea and then spin it up with a bit of dog whistle class hatred or something of that kind.

Anonymous said...

Iain, doesn't this leave Cameron open to a huge backlash if he is forced to come clean about Lord Ashcroft's tax status in the 'spirit of transparency'?

Radio 5 Drive are already having a go at Theresa May about it - if Michael doesn't reveal all this is going to look awfully hypocritical.

Anonymous said...

Sorry. Nothing about the £40 a day 'refreshment' allowance. For goodness sake Iain. What do our military/schools get? less than prisoners of Her Majesty BUT all very much short of £40 a day.

That £40 a day does not require receipts! Tell me any other company or organisation which does not ask for receipts.

Iain. Most workers have to purchase their own meals. Can you explain to me why MP's should have such an allowance?

It is small beer in comparison to Conway and the Winterton's wheezes but it shows just how much MP's are away from public thought.

Scrap allowances. Lower their salary. Lets us have no more career MP's why not have a maximum of two parliaments and no more!

That would create far greater interest.

get rid of these parasites

Anonymous said...

Everyone is missing the point here. MP's are employed (yes, employed) to represent their constituent's interests in parliament. they do have some mythical unique status. therefore they should be subject to the same rules as the rest of society. If you fiddle your expenses in industry (and get caught) you get fired--simple. no apologies, no reports. If the company has a policy regarding hiring of family members and someone tries to circumvent the rules, they get fired--again, simple.
ALL of MP's expenses and staff should be public knowledge. The same holds for ALL representives and civil servants. if you work for the PUBLIC, then the public is entitled to know how much it's paying and for what!

I think the next big question is why MP's are on final salary pension when most final salary pensions are being closed across the country. Another example of parliamentary double standards!

If DC was really SERIOUS about transparency he should be making the leap into the unknown and daring the others to follow. being timid is no way to win credibility and it's certainly no way to win votes.

What a missed opportunity!!

Anonymous said...

Not sure why these rules aren't standard for all MPs. For them to simply fill in occasional expenses forms is not exactly level of transparency that the public deserve.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Cameron is moving in the right direction - and that's the second time I have approved of him in a week. I shall have to go and lie down in a darkened room and think about Sergei Eisenstein.

Anonymous said...

Brown has followed suit, as usual following Cameron's agenda.
If you read Guido's blog today, you can see why the three hacks chosen by Gorbals Mick would just produce a fudge and whitewash in the Autumn.

Anonymous said...

£40 food allowance per day? This is absolutely outrageous. Do they pay tax on it? If they do, then it is just a means of concealing their true salaries from the public. If they do not, then it's a tax dodge. At my previous university we had to stop paying for the jar of Nescafe and pint of milk out of petty cash in case the tax inspector would view it as income on which we weren't being taxed. The more we hear about the pay and benefits that MPs receive, the more shocking it is. There should be no allowances at all, except for travel by the cheapest means (which means standard class and no taxis) between Westminster and the constituency only.

Anonymous said...

"Cameron Seizes the Transparency Agenda"
Well, we all knew that people saw right through him.......

Anonymous said...

I knew that Cameron was being too timid, as he always is. The Coffee House at The Speccie has announced: Cameron may have moved first, but Brown has now upped the ante, writing to the Speaker calling for a "root and branch overhaul of the current system". He should have seized the initiative and run with it. Instead, he made a feeble little half-hearted effort that was terribly easy for Brown to best.

Cameron either doesn't have the courage of his convictions or doesn't have any convictions.

Anonymous said...

Kerry 5.39 pm is spot on.

MPs are employees of their constituents, not a hereditary ruling class.

I've been at a few AGMs where shareholders, who have been rebuked for asking awkward questions, have had to remind the Board of Directors that they are employees of the shareholders (and not the other way around.)

For shareholder, substitute taxpayer and / or constituent and it all makes sense.

Verity is also right. David Cameron had an open goal on the moral higher ground and he fluffed the shot.

He could have buried the ghost of John Major's government and set the Conservatives up as the party that has no truck with sleaze.

Instead, we have to settle for a draw, yet again.

Scipio said...

1. All MPs should declare on the register of member's interests any family members they employ, and how much they pay them. They should also produce time sheets to justify their staffing costs (this is common practice in what we know as 'the real wolrd')

2. MPs should publish an annual report which lists fully the espenses they claim

3. No MP should be allowed to pay rent to a trust which benefits themsleves or a family member, such as the Winterton's did

4. MPs should not be forced to spend too much time reporting and filling in forms, as they are not elected to do that, but some basic changes wuld make the system more transparent

5. The housing allowance should be paid to conver rent on one house only - either London or constituency - and awarded in bands according to the MPs needs (i.e. an MP with 3 kids needs a bigger house than a one with none)! If the money is used to pay a mortgage, any increases in the value of the property should be paid back. But renting is easier and more transparent.

We don't need to reinvent the wheel, just use the system we have in place and make it work!

Anonymous said...

Response to Adrian Yelland - It doesn't matter about how MPs reporting family members employed worked because this is so far beyond the pale that I do not understand why it is not outlawed. Once again, we should follow the Americans in guarding against a corrupt government, which Britain's most assuredly is.

You're picking nits. No allowances for family members. No employment. No nothing. The electorate returned you, not your tribe. Hire your staff from the very qualified pool of graduates and those with business experience who apply for the jobs you are, quite rightly, going to advertise in The Times and The Telegraph.

There should be a building like The Watergate, for example, with flats for MPs, which would cost them a fixed monthly rental. This rental would be paid, unthinkably, out of their salaries and not out of the taxpayers' bank accounts.

Scipio said...

Verity: Many MPs emply family members for perfectly justifiable reasons - and I don't have a problem with that if the spouse is suitably qualified. I have a problem with the lack of transparency over how much is paid.

The accomodation block solution wouldn't work either because many MPs have family homes in London and tax payer funded homes in the constiuency. Where would MPs with London based families live?

We have to be careful - we have to accept that some expenditure is needed if we don't want a poliical class which is entriely privately rich, or dependent upon special interest groups. We also need to stop beating MPs up as a whole, beacause we will put off gifted and talented people who might go into politics but feel it isn't worth the constant attacks and inrusion.

Anonymous said...


I have no problem MPs employing family members, as long as they are employed properly and undertake their job description (hint: it would be a good idea for such a person to have a job description).


The Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise requires companies to account for every last penny, and to back up their accounting with full receipts. That's why, in the real world, companies don't allow you to claim expenses without receipts.

MPs should be no different. They should require full receipts, to the last penny. Live in the real world.


Over the past few years, MPs have nodded through so many illiberal laws to allow eavesdropping of normal people by organisations from your local council to the Royal Mail.

Ha, Ha, to any MP who now protests that their are subject to surveillance. Live in the real world.

Anonymous said...

if MP's didn't set themselves apart as some special class, then no one would bother attacking them or worrying about their expenses.

That's the point. They aren't different from anyone else who has responsibilities.

And, yes lots of talented people run companies and other organisations. they don't say i don't want to be a director or ceo because someone might look at my expenses! They KNOW that somone is looking over their shareholders (at least some of the time).

The problem is that the MP's have been on this gravy train for way too long and they won't give them up without a fight.

The public accounts committee should make available all MP's expenses on the web for everyone to see. This will reinforce accountability which seems to have disappeared.

Anonymous said...

No earthly reason why MPs should get a housing allowance to allow them to buy - at our expense - a second home. They should get an allowance to enable them to rent a modest flat in London, that allowance should be capped & they should only get it if they actually pay rent to a landlord, who is not a member of their family. The sort of nonsense set up by the Wintertons should be prohibited. If they live within a certain distance of London which is commutable, there should be no allowance. All expenses should be verified. If there's no receipt and no proper explanation, no payment. There should be no allowance for food. I have to pay for my food out of my salary, so should they. Married MPs should only get one allowance - so none of the nonsense where Balls/Cooper get 2 housing allowances for living in the same house. If they need research assistants, let the parties pay and let's have full transparency of everything which is raised, spent and on whom. And a regular audit by independent auditors. Anyone caught fiddling gets prosecuted. If only......

Anonymous said...

Oh, and no car mileage allowance. Let them use public transport like the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

From a staff point of view, there are clear implications when our salaries suddenly become public knowledge. My salary should be a private matter but suddenly it will be everyone's interest.