Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

New laws for MPs expenses

Today I made a speech in the House of Commons regarding reforming the laws governing MP’s expenses. Please see below.

Proposal for a Parliamentary Standards Authority

With permission, Mr. Speaker, and following on from your statement to the House yesterday, I should like to make a statement on the decisions made yesterday at the meeting of the Members Estimate Committee that you convened with the Prime Minister, the party leaders and the Chair of the Committee on Members’ Allowances, and on the Prime Minister’s proposals for a new parliamentary standards authority.

First, I want to set out how we are dealing with the past. At the meeting last night, we agreed a process, proposed by the Committee on Members’ Allowances, that will reassess Members’ claims over the past four years and identify those claims that should not have been made and should not have been paid out because they were outwith the rules. We also agreed to make arrangements for repayment. The public are entitled to see a process of reparation and Members are entitled to know that this will be orderly and fair.

Secondly, I want to set out the immediate steps that will be taken. The House has already voted to ensure that the threshold for receipts has gone down from £25 to zero and to introduce full-scope audit under the National Audit Office. But, in addition, the MEC meeting last night agreed to an immediate ban on claims for furniture, a cap on interest payments for accommodation at the equivalent per year of £1,250 per month and a restriction on any changes to designation of main and second homes. The meeting also agreed that Members who are married or living together as partners should be prevented from claiming more than one second home allowance.

I understand that the MEC will meet later today to determine detailed changes to the Green Book to put into practice the principles on which the party leaders and the MEC reached clear agreement last night. That should give immediate reassurance to Members of this House and to the public, but, in order fully to restore public trust and confidence, we need more than reparation and reassurance: we need renewal, and to put in place a new system on a new footing.

The House has already voted, on 30 April, to endorse the inquiry by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which will come forward with its recommendations later this year. Once again, I want to place on record my thanks to Sir Christopher Kelly and his committee for their work.

At the MEC meeting last night, all parties agreed to the Prime Minister’s proposal that the keystone for any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation. We agreed that we should end the gentlemen’s club approach that means that we set and enforce our own rules, and instead bring forward proposals for a new parliamentary standards authority.

The proposal on which we seek to consult would see Parliament legislate to delegate specific responsibilities to a new, independent parliamentary standards authority, which would revise and update the codes of practice for Members of this House, investigate complaints where a Member of this House is alleged to have breached the code of conduct, take forward the implementation of the recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life on allowances and take responsibility for authorising claims for payment under the new allowance system. It would be able not only to disallow claims, but to require payback of claims wrongly paid out and to impose financial penalties.

It is clearly appropriate that the new body should also take responsibility for such issues in the Lords, including administering and regulating the systems for peers’ allowances, overseeing the code governing peers’ conduct and the Register of Lords’ Interests, ensuring high standards of propriety and financial conduct, investigating alleged abuses of the system and recommending any necessary sanctions.

We in this House recognise that the principle of self-regulation operates differently in the House of Lords. It is clear that extensive work and consultation will be necessary to ensure the agreement of the House of Lords to the effective transfer of responsibilities to the new body.

The new authority would also maintain the register of Members’ financial interests in this House and deal with the disclosure of second incomes. Discipline issues that might require sanctions such as suspension from the House, which would have a bearing on Members’ ability to perform their work, would remain a matter for the whole House through the Standards and Privileges Committee. Only the electorate, or those who are themselves democratically elected, should be able to prevent a Member from doing their work in this House.

We have set in place the actions for reparation and reassurance. For renewal for the future, we look forward to Sir Christopher Kelly’s proposals, and we further propose that the House move from a system of self-regulation to a system of statutory regulation. Although I know that it is hard to get a hearing on this subject now, as Leader of the House I will continue to argue, both inside and outside the House, that most honourable Members are precisely that: they are people who come into Parliament as a matter of public service, and are hard-working, decent and honest. However, we must recognise that, even before the allowance revelations, there was a problem of public disengagement and public cynicism, and a public sense of distance from Parliament.

We must now seize the opportunity to promote a debate that will see proposals to change and strengthen our democracy move from the margins to centre stage, where they ought rightly to be. Parliament and politics are important precisely because there are deeply held, different views about public policy, but there is consensus among all parties that we need to put the reputation of Parliament above reproach, and we will. I commend the statement to the House.



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