Why were expenses spared? PM asked
The anti-sleaze watchdog attacked Gordon Brown last night for failing to include new legislation to clean up MPs' expenses in the Queen's Speech.
Sir Christopher Kelly, who this month drew up sweeping plans to overhaul the Commons allowances system, said it was important for the new Parliament due to be elected next spring to start with a "clean sheet". He protested that the "relatively straightforward" legislation essential to establishing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which will police MPs' expenses, was absent from the package.
Sir Christopher, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the party leaders had agreed to implement his proposals in full.
He added: "It is disappointing therefore that today's Queens's Speech did not contain measures to address the changes we believe to be necessary affecting the remit, powers and independence of the new body being established to regulate expenses."
Despite the political agenda being dominated by the expenses scandal for much of the summer, Gordon Brown did not mention the subject when he spelt out his legislative programme in the Commons. He appears to have decided that legislation on expenses would distract from Labour's key pre-election messages on education, social care and curbing bankers' bonuses.
Number 10 said last night the vast majority of Sir Christopher's report could be implemented by Ipsa without the need for new laws to be passed but further legislation will be brought forward if required. After the statement the Conservatives accused Labour of a u-turn. David Cameron claimed that Sir Christopher's recommendations included 11 measures that needed to be made law.
Also missing from the Queen's Speech was any mention of electoral reform, disappointing some Cabinet ministers who had hoped the package would signal sympathy towards electoral reform. They were pressing for a paving Bill that would set a date soon after the general election for a referendum on scrapping first-past-the-post elections.
The Labour pressure group Progress said last night: "Without legislation this commitment remains little more than an aspiration, rather than a real intent to give citizens more power to vote for their representatives in Parliament."
Labour's promise to make the House of Lords more democratic has been described by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, as "unfinished business". Yet the Lords Reform Bill, raising the prospect of an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected Upper House, was relegated yesterday to draft status. That means it has no prospect of becoming law before the election. The expected promise on accelerating the testing and treatment of cancer sufferers was also missing from the package. The Government explained last night that it did not require fresh legislation.
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