More MPs set to stand down at next general election

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More MPs are set to stand down at next year’s general election in order to take advantage of “golden handshakes” of up to £65,000 that will not apply at future elections.

Senior figures in all political parties warned that the new expenses regime announced on Wednesday will provide a “perverse incentive” for MPs to “take the money and run”, as one put it. Whips believe another 50 could decide to quit, on top of the 114 who have already announced that they will leave Parliament.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, said the pay-offs of up to a year’s salary should be cut to two months’ wages if MPs retire rather than are made “redundant” by losing their seats at an election. That would reduce the “golden goodbye” of a long-serving MP from £64,766 to £10,794, on current salary levels.

Andrew Dismore, Labour MP for Hendon, said: “People who may want to retire at the following election will leave with virtually nothing. Some people may consider thinking: ‘Well, might as well go now and take what is available’.”

One former minister said: “It’s a crazy idea. Kelly should either have kept the full payments or ended them at the next election. A lot of people are now going to stand down five years earlier than they planned.”

Although the Kelly review has been endorsed by all the party leaders, there is growing criticism by MPs. Labour's Austin Mitchell said it could mean MPs were not paid enough to do the job and may "castrate" Parliament. He said it was "unrealistic and unfair" for party leaders to tell MPs to "accept it and shut up".

"It is in the interests of mandarins and ministers and leaders to have a weak Parliament with members who aren't well-paid enough to do their job," he said.

"In pursuing that, they are actually neutralising Parliament, castrating us in a sense."

Helen Goodman, a Work and Pensions Minister, said: "With Kelly, we seem to have been looking at the expenses first and the consequences for who can and cannot afford to be a parliamentarian fall out of that. That seems to me to be completely the wrong order. I am not convinced that this is good for members with small children and families."

A group of MPs’ wives plan to go to the High Court in an attempt to block the Kelly committee’s plan to ban them from working for their husbands. They have received legal advice that they could succeed in a judicial review on the grounds that a ban would breach the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act.

Alan Duncan, the Tory frontbench spokesman on prisons, was cleared by the Commons standards watchdog yesterday of wrongly claiming tens of thousands of pounds in mortgage interest payments on his second home.