New MPs' expenses row as claims are published

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Indy Politics

MPs will line up today to deliver a vote of no confidence in the body set up to administer their expenses as the first tranche of claims since the election are published.

Senior figures from all parties will give a damning verdict on the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), which was created in the aftermath of last year's expenses scandal.

IPSA has been beset with protests from MPs that the new system for submitting claims is complicated and cumbersome. IPSA staff have complained that they have been abused by politicians furious over the new system for reimbursing MPs' expenses.

Both David Cameron and Nick Clegg have acknowledged wide levels of disquiet with IPSA's operation in its first few months and agreed that it needs to be improved. The body has also been instructed by John Bercow, the Speaker, to cut its £2.9m annual running costs towards the £2m spent by its predecessor. It will disclose details this morning of 22,000 claims made by 576 MPs between the election and the end of August; the remaining 74 MPs submitted no claims over that period. In future it will release information about their claims every two months.

However, it will not produce the receipts that MPs provided to justify their claims. IPSA responds to criticism that the omission means politicians will escape full scrutiny by arguing that the £1m yearly cost of publishing tens of thousands of bills would not provide value for money.

Today's release will include details of claims for travel, with the starting point and destination of each journey and the class of ticket bought. MPs are expected not to travel first class unless there is no alternative.

The assault on the IPSA system will be led by the Conservative MP Adam Afriyie, who has tabled a Commons motion calling for a fundamental review of the expenses watchdog.

It calls for a "simpler system" of expenses which reduces the amount of time that MPs spend on their paperwork. The motion adds that plans should be drawn up by April – and that MPs should be offered a vote on an alternative if IPSA fails to produce new proposals by then.

Senior backbench figures from the three largest parties have given their support for Mr Afriyie's motion – Graham Brady, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, Tony Lloyd, the chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party, and Lorely Burt, who chairs the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party. A vote in favour of the Bill would be largely symbolic, but supporters say it would send a powerful message of MPs' anger with IPSA's operation.

Mr Afriyie said: "I hope my Bill will act as a catalyst for parliamentary action," adding: "MPs must not allow our parliamentary democracy to be undermined by a costly and unworkable expenses regime."

Mr Clegg has acknowledged "there is a great deal of unease on both sides of the House about how IPSA is operating in practice" and said it was right that its working practices should be reviewed. But he stressed that it should remain a "fundamental principle" that expenses system should remain independent.

Yesterday David Cameron's spokesman said the Prime Minister also recognised MPs' worries about IPSA and believed the system should be strengthened. But the Labour MP, John Mann, said it was inevitable that IPSA would suffer teething troubles and maintained that its system was improving every month.

He added that the new body had been set up because of the inability of MPs to develop a "transparent, fair and affordable" expenses system. It emerged yesterday that 1,574 claims by MPs had been turned down by IPSA in its first five months of the operation.

The rejected claims – which include £1,057 for advertising and £338 for a shredder – totalled £116,359. The identities of the MPs who submitted them have not been disclosed. Over that period IPSA said it handled more than 8,000 phone calls and 13,000 emails from MPs and staff.

But Mr Bercow, who chairs the Commons committee with responsibility for its budget, has said: "IPSA should set itself robust savings targets for its running costs. This is especially relevant given the current pressure on spending across the public sector".

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