Principles 'should replace MPs' expenses rules'

Tight expenses rules for MPs should be abandoned in favour of a set of "principles" and scrutiny by voters, the watchdog in charge of the regime suggested today.





The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said a looser system where politicians took responsibility for justifying their spending to the public would be "simpler" and provide "value for money".



The prospect of a gradual shift could help soothe MPs who are furious over the bureaucracy and costcutting imposed in the wake of the expenses scandal that rocked Westminster.



Last month David Cameron condemned the rules as "anti-family" and warned that they had to change, while backbenchers have been openly calling for the watchdog's chairman Sir Ian Kennedy to quit.



However, there is bound to be concern at the idea of easing restrictions, with research suggesting that only a third of the public trust MPs to file legitimate claims.



A public consultation published by Ipsa floated a number of improvements to the existing scheme, including allowing scores of outer London MPs to claim for running second homes again.



The document suggested funding more travel for MPs' families and increasing the £130-a-night limit on hotels.



But it also raised the prospect that a less rigid system could be introduced in the longer term, with MPs "justifying their own decisions".



Instead of detailed rules, there would be "an expenses scheme based more on a set of principles which do not attempt to cover every eventuality".



"It will need a decision that a system that is easy to understand is preferable to a larger rule book which seeks certainty but necessarily falls short of delivering it," the consultation said.



"It will also require an agreement by MPs that they will take greater responsibility for their claims within the general framework of principles and the agreed budgets.



"If this were to happen, Ipsa would be able to be less demanding. The taxpayer would still be able to obtain assurance that public money was being properly disbursed, since the majority of claims would continue to be published and after-the event auditing would remain.



"Transparency and accountability would be as strong as now."



In his foreword to the document, Sir Ian highlighted the "ever-increasing demand for detailed advice and interpretation of detailed rules and guidance".



"The cost to the taxpayer is considerable," he wrote. "We are clear that the model of how we do business must evolve."



Backbenchers renewed their attack on the watchdog as the six-week consultation was launched this morning. Liberal Democrat Bob Russell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the organisation was the worst he had dealt with in 40 years in public life, while Tory Roger Gale said the chairman should consider resigning.



But Sir Ian dismissed the idea of quitting, suggesting politicians were just having trouble accepting the "new world".



"Ipsa is doing the job Parliament asked it to do," he said. "We are here for the long haul. There's not an immediate quick fix that's possible."



Under the rules in force before the general election, only 25 MPs with constituencies in "inner" London were not entitled to claim for a second home.



But Ipsa increased that figure to 128 after deciding that politicians did not need extra accommodation if their seat was within 20 miles of parliament, or they could reach it within an hour on the train.



The consultation questioned whether that was "unfair" to the MPs who can no longer claim, pointing out that the Commons often sits until late at night.



MPs are permitted to spend £130 a night staying in London hotels, and £105 elsewhere in the country. Ipsa revealed that the average overnight claim in London was £111.51, but there was also "anecdotal evidence" of difficulties booking hotels for less than £130 at short notice.



Taxi fares can only be reimbursed if they are "absolutely necessary", but some MPs have complained that the definition is arbitrary.



"An alternative approach would be to relax the rules on taxis and rely on MPs to make the judgment about what is reasonable, bearing in mind the current financial climate and the fact that claims for the use of taxis will be published."



Under the existing scheme, MPs can claim for children aged 5-17 to travel between homes. But if the politician's spouse or partner accompanies the youngster, they have to pay their own way.



"Some MPs have argued that this might force children to travel on their own; others argue that it discourages MPs' families from being together and is therefore detrimental to family life," the consultation said.



The watchdog also disclosed that it had complained to the Commons authorities over a new flat-rate charge of £15 for eating in the Members Dining Room. A £10 option has since been agreed, but even that was "still likely to exceed the price of the same meal if bought by a non-MP".



A poll commissioned by Ipsa to accompany the consultation demonstrated the lasting damage from the expenses scandal.



Less than a third of the public trust MPs to claim only for legitimate expenses, according to the poll by YouGov. A further 35% said they had some trust, but not very much.



Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young said he welcomed the "wide-ranging review".



"The expenses system is there to give MPs the support they need to carry out their jobs, and Ipsa should look again at areas where the current scheme is not adequately doing that," he said. "We support the principles of independent and transparent regulation of MPs' expenses."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own