UK Politics

MPs expenses: Watchdog Ipsa shrugs off criticism

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Media captionSir Ian Kennedy: "We set our own pace"

The parliamentary expenses watchdog will not be forced into making changes by critical MPs, its chairman insists.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority would make the "right judgements... at our own pace", Sir Ian Kennedy told the BBC.

MPs want urgent reform of the system brought in after the expenses scandal, saying it is "failing" them.

Commons Leader Sir George Young said it was "at best distracting, and at worst impeding, MPs from doing their job".

The Commons Leader's criticism came in his submission to the consultation being carried out by IPSA - which was formed in May to implement tougher rules governing expenses after the revelations of the widespread abuse by MPs of the old system which they designed and oversaw themselves.

But it has faced vocal criticism from some MPs, and it is currently reviewing how the new expenses regime is working.

Speaking to the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, Sir Ian said the reform of the expenses system was in "the interests of MPs" and they "were missing a trick if they don't celebrate what is going on".

He added: "There are still some MPs who find it difficult to come to terms with what has happened."

Sir Ian said Ipsa would not be unduly influenced by the criticism from MPs about how it was operating.

"We are independent, we will proceed at our own pace... and we will make judgements that we think are right."

Sir George says his submission to the review reflects the debates and representations made to him by MPs and reflects what he believes are the "highly unsatisfactory features" of the scheme.

'Substantial change'

He also says the new expenses system, as designed and implemented, is in danger of deterring people from less affluent backgrounds from becoming MPs "and placing undue pressure on some MPs' family life".

He says "the House will expect Ipsa to recognise the need for substantial change" and will tackle the "unintended consequences" of the new regime by 1 April.

While he does not want a return "to the discredited old system", and he says any reformed system must continue to guard against MPs profiting from expenses, he says MPs should not be required to meet legitimate business costs out of their own pockets.

He calls for measures to reduce the amount of money MPs have to pay up front on things like setting up an office - with solutions being a widening of the rules on using a dedicated payment card or also direct payment by the Commons.

The current system of publishing details of rejected claims and where advice has been sought over expenses should also be changed, he said, with a suggestion of anonymous advice being published instead.

Payment card

Sir George said extending the use of the Ipsa payment card from travel to council tax and utility bills had already happened and he would support it being more widely used - which would also "provide an audit trail of MPs' expenses at a lower administrative cost for both Ipsa and MPs".

He also calls for a rethink on the definition of London area MPs who are barred from claiming for a second home.

At the moment MPs may have to either sleep overnight in their Commons office or pay for a hotel out of their own pocket or travel by train late at night even though "due to their national and constituency profile" they may be "more vulnerable than other members of the general public".

Speaking later in the House of Commons, Sir George said nobody wanted to "go back to the bad old days" but urged Ipsa to come up with a "revised system which enables us to get on with the job".

Shadow Commons leader Hilary Benn welcomed Sir George's remarks, saying his concerns were "forcefully" shared by MPs from all parties. "We all hope that Ipsa will listen," he said.

New claims

Sir George's criticism came on the same day as Ipsa published details of expenses claimed by MPs between September and October 2010.

It revealed that it had paid out £3.64m in legitimate claims to 622 MPs over the two month period.

The watchdog said it had rejected 248 claims, either in part or in full, between May and the end of October. These totalled just over £15,000.

The BBC's Political Correspondent Carole Walker said these included a claim for £75 by Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman for the hire of a hall for a constituency surgery, a claim of £286.52 by the defence minister Peter Luff for payment for a mobile phone and a claim of £762 by the Labour MP Paul Flynn for a service charge on his accommodation.

In each case the reason given was "insufficient evidence".

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