Magazine article Public Finance

Clearing the Decks

Magazine article Public Finance

Clearing the Decks

Article excerpt

PARLIAMENT FACES A tough few months. The party conferences are over and MPs and peers are returning after a near 12-week recess. But some familiar problems are about to reappear. The expenses row, which has been largely dormant since July, is set to reignite, threatening not only the future of many MPs but also to dominate the period running up to the general election.

There are several ingrethents. First, the review of parliamentary expenses by the Committee on Standards in Public Life under Sir Christopher Kelly will report later this month. This will cover many of the issues raised by the Daily Telegraph revelations last spring, such as mortgage payments on second homes and employing family members as staff.

Second, in response, the government, opposition parties and the Commons authorities will have to decide whether to revise the legislation hastily passed in July to set up the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.

The Act is a mess, with a statutory and non-statutory commissioner. The original proposals were heavily amended during their parliamentary passage, by defeat or government concession. So provisions for new criminal offences for MPs breaking rules on registration of interests or being paid by lobbyists to ask questions were removed.

Third, and most important of all, the official review of MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg, a distinguished former permanent secretary, is due to be published. MPs will be receiving letters analysing their expense claims for the past five years and will then have a chance to comment.

Rumours are already circulating that several dozen will have to repay sizeable amounts of money - and that not only will several be forced to resign at the election but some might have to do so immediately.

Fourth, it is not just the Commons. The Lords has had its own problems over the financial interests of peers: the suspension of two peers after a cash-for-questions sting operation; and allegations about abuse of expenses, in some cases subject to police investigation. A committee under Lord Eames is expected to report very soon on a new code of conduct, covering outside interests, and also whether there should be a new investigator of complaints.

The Senior Salaries Review Body will also report this autumn on the remuneration of peers. …

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