Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
December 2, 2010
No one could accuse my hon. Friend Adam Afriyie of lacking bravery in introducing this debate. I suspect that not many votes can be found in bringing up IPSA once again, so it is to his credit.
We all faced difficulties through IPSA’s teething problems-even me, as a central London MP. I have no need for a second home, but obviously I have had an office to run, like all other Members. My big concern is that all parties promised the British public a new politics in May’s general election, which was supposed to draw a line under the calamitous expenses scandal. I am increasingly alarmed that after everything there is a sense among the public that the political class still do not get it. We will have some high-profile High Court cases and I am sure that we will see a number of parliamentarians imprisoned in the course of the next six months. The whole issue will not go away quickly.
I did not agree with much of what Duncan Hames had to say, but my biggest concern is for many of the new intake and I am glad that he took the opportunity to give us his views today. I know that many of the new MPs to whom I have spoken are suffering the most and are suffering genuine hardship. I feel that, in a way, they are paying for the sins of a past generation under the old system, which was so disastrous.
I have to say-I know that I will be the only person saying this-that I agreed with quite a lot of what John Mann had to say. We have crossed swords on this over the years. He is right that the Executive and their insistence on taking control of these issues has led us down a path to disaster.
I am sorry to say to my hon. Friend Mr Leigh that this is not just about the most recent party leaders-it goes back some 30 years. The use of allowances as a substitute for salary increases, in particular, had been independently recommended and was used by successive Governments going back to the mid-1980s.
After the Derek Conway case of January 2008, we had a promise that there would be root-and-branch reform, but there was nothing of the sort. We collectively had the opportunity at that time to make the changes and we all felt that we could continue to pull the wool over the public’s eyes and went through the calamitous collection of High Court cases in which the Speaker’s Commission-including some senior parliamentarians in this place and in the House of Lords-took the view that we should fight that fight. It turned out to be an absolute calamity. At that juncture, the freedom of information case concerned only 12 Members and former Members, but once it had gone to the courts the whole situation was opened up. It turned out to be an absolute calamity, and we have ourselves to blame.
My biggest concern is, again, for the new generation of MPs. Because of a genuine sense of hardship and a sense of frustration about the whole process, I would not be surprised if quite a few did not stand at the next election. We will have a lot of one-term MPs, and voluntarily so, which is a terrible indictment of the fact that we have not got the system sorted out correctly. It has been a catalogue of disasters.
I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough said. In the House of Lords, a daily allowance is paid across the board, without any need for receipts or for an IPSA-type bureaucracy. I know that that is not an ideal scenario, but it seems to me that if their lordships have gone down that route and it seems to be working pretty well, we should not necessarily exclude it ourselves.
I wish to say one last thing about IPSA’s workings. It has promised that there will be a review of the broad issue of salaries early next year, in conjunction with the Senior Salaries Review Body. I know that the Minister spoke earlier, but I wish to say-I hope he is listening-that I hope he will now be able to provide assurances to all Members that we will not go down the route of the Executive taking control of these matters yet again, and therefore having ever more incentives, albeit that it would be much more difficult to have incentives as salary substitutes.
I hope that when IPSA comes up with its report, as it is bound to do by the end of next year, that report will not sit gathering dust either in the Speaker’s Office or at No. 10 Downing street, but that the Government will act on it immediately to ensure that it is properly published and that the recommendations are implemented without amendment.
We have had a very interesting debate, and I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Windsor would like to say a few final words in summing up, but I finish by saying that I hope we will be able to make some genuine progress on IPSA and on the whole issue of salaries, so that we can put this squalid episode into the past.