MPs set to shrink from proposals to reform their expenses

 

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"Anyone who went through the last election would have picked up the shocking level of hatred for the political class". And that is why one MP is predicting the Commons won't touch new proposals to reform the system for MPs expenses with a bargepole.

The special select committee on Members' Expenses under Conservative Adam Afriyie has laboured and brought forward proposals for a system of flat rate allowances to replace the more elaborate system operated by the hated (by MPs, anyway) expenses watchdog IPSA. Their report suggests flat-rate allowances to fund second homes and travel, arguing that even if they gave MPs more money the result would still mean savings for the taxpayer because it would avoid the expense of checking receipts and making sure the money was used in accordance with elaborate guidelines.

Some will argue that the level of the allowances is now the key issue. And in an earlier era, MPs might have been minded to vote themselves a bit more dosh and take the hit from hostile tabloids, secure in the knowledge that it would all be forgotten come the next election. But in austerity Britain, with real incomes falling, pensions imploding and the prospect of more woe to come, a vote along those lines could spell electoral (or selectoral) doom.

The committee makes a series of interesting points about the inner workings of the IPSA system - how supporting the work of MPs is something IPSA, merely has to "have regard to," rather than its central duty, for example. It notes that 91 per cent of MPs claim to have been deterred from claiming expenses to which they believe they were entitled, for fear of press coverage if the claim were to be rejected - or because of the sheer bureaucratic hassle involved in claiming. On the other hand the report also notes that a large proportion of rejected claims involve asking parliament to cover surcharges for late payment of bills….

My impression is that while a lot of MPs still continue to abominate IPSA and all its works, and would quite like the changes the report suggests, Mr Afriyie's motion to the House of Commons on Thursday: "That this House approves the recommendations of the First Report from the Members' Expenses Committee on the Operation of the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009," will not be passed, out of a well-developed sense of self preservation.

 
Mark D'Arcy Article written by Mark D'Arcy Mark D'Arcy Parliamentary correspondent

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