Letters: MPs' expenses

New rules needed on MPs' overnight expenses
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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister is correct to address urgently the abuse of MPs' expenses relating to grace-and-favour accommodation and the employment of family members (The Big Question, 28 April). He is right also to demand receipts for everything an MP claims and to expect declaration of all MPs' other sources of income.

Thank goodness he has now been well-advised to leave the review of the "additional costs allowance" to Sir Christopher Kelly, as this requires careful consideration but only as a part of the current wide-ranging review which the Prime Minister appropriately ordered.

If he wishes to do anything else urgently, but only as an interim measure, it should be easy to remove two more potential abuses by clearly defining an MP's main home as where his or her family resides and by defining the distance from Westminster from which London MPs are expected to commute daily to a journey time of one hour.

I plan to write to Sir Christopher Kelly to suggest that he considers changing the sub-title of the recently, largely appropriately revised Green Book from "A Guide to Members' Allowances" to "A Guide to Members' Expenses". To me allowances imply a right, whereas expenses have to be justified and claimed.

Richard T Taylor MP

(Wyre Forest, Independent)

House of Commons

The question of MPs' expenses is simple – deal with them as would any large company employing some 700 employees. If an MP has to stay in London overnight, then they can use a company flat or, if not available, a hotel, and the cost is reimbursed on production of a receipt. If an MP needs a secretary or assistant, then prospective candidates are interviewed by the HR department and the most suitable appointed – this might however lead to the astonishing conclusion that it is not always the MP's relatives who are the most qualified.

As for pay, give MPs a set three-year pay deal – and then fail to implement some of it in the second year.

Malcolm C Richardson

Eynsford, Kent

Keith Farman (letters, 28 April) suggests buying a hotel near the House of Commons to provide accommodation for MPs. But there is a simpler and less costly option. After 2012, there will be an entire athletes' village, with spartan accommodation, looking for new occupants.

Philip Goldenberg

Woking, Surrey

Green future for British jobs

The Budget and the announcement on carbon capture and storage makes the UK the first country to restrict development of coal-fired power stations to the availability of technologies to limit carbon emissions. As well as sending important signals to the rest of the world in the run-up to the Copenhagen negotiations, and potentially speeding up the development of such vital technologies, it also sets the UK on a path towards a secure energy policy.

But the important story is the opportunity this decisions offers for social justice – for creating high-skilled, quality jobs and regenerating communities still barely recovering from the closure of coalfields in the 1980s. As well as helping these communities by increasing demand for coal and creating new engineering jobs, moving away from gas will have farther-reaching benefits for manufacturing, which has been damaged by the fluctuations in energy prices as a result of dependence upon imported gas.

Research by the Northern Way partnership estimates the potential economic impact of deploying carbon capture and storage technologies at between £126m and £888m of net additional turnover to the north of England. A full-scale CCS demonstration project alone in the north of England is likely to generate £3bn of investment into the economy. This investment will boost the life chances of many citizens.

Dave Anderson MP

Chair, Purge, Clean Coal Coalition

Frances O'Grady

Deputy General Secretary, TUC

Andrew Pakes

Chair, SERA, the Labour Environment Campaign

Ian Lavery

National President, National Union of Mineworkers

Mike Jeram

National Secretary, UNISON

The euphoria of Barack Obama's succession to the White House is as palpable today as three months ago. From bailing out banks to financial stimulus, Mr Obama has been a busy man. But it is his re-engagement with climate change for which we congratulate him.

There have been significant announcements on climate change, sending a clear signal to the world that the inaction of the Bush era is behind us, but there is still a long way to go.

There are now just 221 days until the UN talks in Copenhagen, when a new deal on climate change must be agreed. Leadership must be shown by developed countries on tougher targets on emissions and finance for developing countries. This will be the true test of his commitment. The new president made reference to those listening "huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world" on his election night, it's vital Obama's team remembers it is these families that are bearing the brunt of climate change.

Paul Cook

Director of Advocacy, Tearfund, Teddington, Middlesex

No political motive behind arrests

As the person ultimately accountable for the decision to make arrests in the counter-terrorist investigation in the North West, I refute the suggestion by Matthew Norman (Opinion, 24 April) that the decision was made for political or news-management motives.

As Chief Constable, I have to balance the human rights of individuals, and the relationship that we have with the community that we police day-to-day, with the threat of what might happen if we do not intervene when we receive intelligence that there may be attack planning underway.

After probing that intelligence in every possible way, involving some of those most expert in dealing with these issues, if there is no other reasonable option then it is my duty to intervene and Mr Norman would criticise severely if we failed to do so and an attack took place.

We do not take this lightly and we will continue to work in the communities where these arrests took place long after the media have moved on. This was not a fiasco or a mistake – it is in the nature of police work that we will be unable to get some investigations to the standard required for a charge.

In this country there is no political interference in the decision of whether or when to arrest an individual.

We welcome the review announced by Lord Carlile because we feel it will further explore some of the real difficulties of this type of investigation and the way the legislation operates.

There are currently 68 people on trial or awaiting trial for terrorist cases across the country. There is a real threat out there and the Police Service cannot duck its duty to meet that challenge.

Peter Fahy

Chief Constable, Greater Manchester Police

Research into Gulf War illness

The letter from Professors Foster and Gosden, Dr Melling and Colonel English ("UK needs research funding for Gulf War Illness", 27 April) draws attention to research carried out here at King's on the health of Gulf War veterans, but they say that this is performed within a "restricted environment" and that veterans have not been "investigated . . . by dedicated clinicians".

King's College London is not a "restricted environment", and every piece of research we have conducted into Gulf War Illness has been published in the scientific journals. Readers should also know that the research has been clinical and multi-disciplinary – involving specialists in anthropology, biochemistry, dermatology, epidemiology, genetics, history, immunology, neurology, neurophysiology, neuropsychology and psychiatry – all reflected in the scientific publications available via our website.

We can all agree that research continues to be needed into the health of all our veterans, not just those of the 1991 Gulf War. More can and should be done in understanding their health problems. But it must be informed by what has already been achieved in this area.

Professor Simon Wessely

Professor Christopher Dandeker

Co-directors, King's Centre for Military Health Research

King's College London

Media loves a pandemic scare

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of your front-page headline "Swine flu sweeps globe" (27 April) with Simon Carr's article "We must be gullible to keep listening to these scares". I agreed with every word Simon wrote, while wondering how one could call seven nations announcing possible or actual incidents of swine flu, "sweeping the globe".

The media does seem determined to have its flu pandemic; for all the hype, avian was a damp squib, globally speaking, but now we have swine, sweeping the globe! Pandemics! 1918 all over again! Drama, crisis, panic.

I feel sorry for the pig farmers. With photos of blameless pigs strewn across the media, I bet there's a drop in pork consumption, just to add to their woes.

Deborah Backhaus

Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire

Is the killer swine flu virus a product of evolution or intelligent design?

Philip Mottram

Tickhill, South Yorkshire

Committed to ID cards

Your article of 28 April on ID cards is simply wrong on two fundamental points. The Government is committed to introducing ID cards. And there is no large fund of money to spend – or indeed save – if ID cards were cancelled.

ID cards will provide the public with a single, simple and secure way for individuals to prove their identity and safeguard their personal details – protecting the community against crime, illegal immigration, and terrorism.

Of the £4.7bn the Identity and Passport Service expects to spend over the next 10 years only around a quarter is dedicated to ID cards and all the costs of issuing the cards, as with passports, will be covered through the fee income it generates.

This means around 75 per cent of these costs will be spent on running the Identity and Passport Service as it exists today and making important improvements, such as the introduction of fingerprints into passports, making them even more secure and ensuring that British citizens travelling abroad continue to hold a gold-standard passport.

Jacqui Smith

Home Secretary

London SW1

Phonetically speaking, the initial prospects for privacy are indeed grim when applied to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (leading article, 28 April).

Bernard Martin

Somersham, Cambridgeshire


Revenue men

Jim Callaghan was not in fact the only Chancellor of the Exchequer to have worked for the Inland Revenue ("Darling sticks with a rather battered tradition", 23 April). Sir John Anderson (Chancellor 1943-1945) was Chairman of the Inland Revenue from 1919 to 1922.

Robert Davies

London SE3

Ballard's first

Johann Hari (22 April) repeats an often-seen error concerning J G Ballard's first novel, when he says it was The Drowned World. It was the less excellent but still fascinating book The Wind From Nowhere, which was published in 1961. Ballard claimed to have dashed it off in less than a fortnight and in later years pretty much disowned it – but it was still his first novel.

Alan Dorey

Verwood, Dorset

National saint

If Anne Palmer (letter, 28 April) objects to being told that the flag of St George is a racist symbol, perhaps she should reflect on the attitudes of the groups who have most enthusiastically adopted it as a nationalistic symbol. Perhaps she could join in the great sport of inducing apoplexy in these people by pointing out that he was half-Palestinian, half-Turkish, and asking them if they'd welcome him if he arrived on these shores seeking work or asylum.

Mike Perry

Ickenham, Middlesex

Naming the years

David Harvey's letter (28 April), objecting to calling 2010 "twenty ten" rather than "two thousand and ten", leads me to question whether he ever studied history at school. We work in centuries, not thousands of years. All years, BC and AD, are named as two two-digit numbers. Think about it: "four fifty"; "ten sixty-six"; "nineteen forty-five". Why should twenty ten be any different?

Pauline Jameson


Truth at last

I was heartened to read in Stephen Glover's column (27 April) about "Tony Blair's election as Tory leader in 1994" . A journalist telling the truth! Whatever next? MPs doing a honest shift?

Mick Morris

Hamilton, Lanarkshire