New expenses watchdog is too tough, say MPs – and Cameron agrees
Prime Minister demands reform of stringent new rules as latest rejected claimants are named and shamed
The leader of the House of Commons has released a damning critique of the Parliamentary expenses watchdog, as the authority named and shamed more than 100 MPs whose claims it had rejected. Sir George Young said the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was "failing" to support MPs and its regime must be radically reformed.
The more stringent expenses system, he said, would deter people from less affluent backgrounds from becoming MPs and put "undue pressure" on the family lives of existing parliamentarians. Downing Street backed his critical remarks. David Cameron does not believe that Ipsa is working properly. "The Prime Minister's view is that we have got to deal with this," said a spokesman.
Ipsa, in publishing the latest tranche of MPs expenses, for the first time revealed the names and details of those MPs who have had their claims rejected. Overall, 154 claims for expenses were rejected by Ipsa between mid-September and the end of October, coming to a total of £15,352.49.
The rejected claims ranged from one for just 30p for stationery to others worth hundreds of pounds. About £3.6m was paid out in legitimate claims to 622 MPs in September and October. Other claims were partially rejected.
Ipsa has incurred the wrath of hundreds of MPs of all parties since being set up to administer their expenses in the aftermath of the 2009 scandal. Sir George was responding to an official consultation by Ipsa on how the rules on MPs' expenses should be reformed. He said: "I believe that the current expenses scheme, as designed, implemented and administered by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, is failing in many respects adequately to support MPs to undertake their responsibilities.
"There are some highly unsatisfactory features of the scheme that are at best distracting, and at worst impeding, MPs from doing their jobs. This is unsustainable and it would be unacceptable to the House, if Parliament is to perform the task the country expects."
But Andrew McDonald, the chief executive of Ipsa, said: "We recognise that there are particular demands associated with the role of an MP and what we have sought to do is craft a system which appropriately supports MPs in carrying out their role.
"What we are now saying, in the course of the consultation to MPs and to others, is if you have views about how well we have done that or evidence as to how well we [should] have done that let us know now.
"I don't want to anticipate where we'll be at the end of the consultation, but now have nine months of data on the way in which the scheme has been used. We have nine months of experience from MPs and their staff. So we want to listen to that experience and indeed listen to views from the public as well."
Although he would not be drawn on what concessions Ipsa is likely to propose when the consultation ends next month, it is known to be looking at reforming several key areas around travel and accommodation.
These are likely to include allowing MPs to make more use of taxis, a flat allowance for constituency travel, and reducing the 20-mile limit from the House of Commons for defining a "London" MP.
The rules which stops MPs claiming for rail fares for children over five unless they are the sole carer is also expected to be scrapped. MPs are also expected to be able to merge their constituency and Westminster office allowances and transfer funds between them.
But Sir George suggested that Ipsa needed to go further and appeared to take issue with Ipsa's publication of rejected expenses claims. "MPs must not be deterred from applying for expenses because they fear reputational damage as a result of failed claims made in good faith, nor from seeking advice for fear that the fact that they have done so may be disclosed and used against them," he said.
Milk, jugs and first-class rail: The latest expenses claims
£68,000 The amount spent by MPs in two months on first-class rail travel.
£15,219 The amount claimed over the same period for taxis.
50p The claim for milk for tea and coffee submitted by Mike Weatherley, the Tory MP for Hove. It was rejected.
£1.60 Graeme Morrice, Labour MP for Livingston – who replaced Labour's Jim Devine, at present on trial for expenses fraud – had 24 separate claims for £1.60 for car travel within his constituency rejected by Ipsa.
John Cryer (Labour, Leyton and Wanstead) submitted an expense claim for a jug, because, he said, the sink in his constituency was too small to fill the kettle.
£1.39 The amount claimed by Phillip Lee (Conservative, Bracknell) for biscuits for the Attorney General Dominic Grieve.
£82.13 Amount claimed by Bob Russell (Lib Dem, Colchester) for bulk-buying toilet rolls for his constituency office.
Three Cabinet members had some of their expenses claims turned down: the Liberal Democrat Energy Secretary Chris Huhne, the Conservative Justice Secretary Ken Clarke and Chief Whip Patrick McLoughlin.
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