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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 March 2008, 15:36 GMT
Theresa May interview transcript
On the Politics Show, Sunday 09 March 2008, Jon Sopel interviewed , Shadow Leader, House of Commons, Theresa May

Theresa May MP
There is this break down of faith, there is this break-down of trust between the people and politicians
Theresa May

Interview transcript

JON SOPEL: We're joined now by the Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Theresa May. Theresa May, welcome to the Politics Show. So, what do you think, outside of a General Election, should we be able to sack our MPs.

THERESA MAY: I think this is a really interesting idea and I think we have to look at this very seriously and I think it's possible to combine the views of both James Brokenshire and the group of Tory MPs who suggested this and John Mann, whose concerns about the possibility of malicious or frivolous sort of complaints coming forward.

I think it would be possible to draw up some rules whereby, if there was serious wrong doing, or I also agree actually with Kevin McGuire, we should look at it where an MP crosses the floor, where they have been elected on one basis, they've said to their constituents, this is me, I'm standing as a Conservative, a Labour, a Liberal Democrat and then suddenly they choose to change.

JON SOPEL: So that's a yes, we should be able to (interjects)

THERESA MAY: I think that this is something that we should be looking at very seriously, yes. I mean that's my personal view and I think this is something that as a party we will now be - now look at.

JON SOPEL: Well, how would it work?

THERESA MAY: Well you'd have to have quite clear rules about the circumstances in which it would work to ensure that you avoided those very difficult situations where, because every MP knows there are people in constituencies who do sort of just take against them, for reasons which are actually nothing to do with how ever well they're doing their job, so you've got to have some clear rules but I think that drawing up rules shouldn't be that difficult in a circumstance. I mean we can look at what happens in the States, say whether that would actually be a good situation here in the UK. I think it's something (interjection)


THERESA MAY: seriously - and the reason, just to say Jon, I think the reason we should look at it seriously is because it is right that there is this break down of faith, there is this break-down of trust between the people and politicians and we have to do things to restore that trust. And there are a whole variety of ways in which we can be doing this and I think this is one that we should look at as well.

JON SOPEL: I think in your Maidenhead constituency at the last Election, some 23,000 people voted for you, over 50% of the people who turned up. Wouldn't it be terrible, I don't know, if Theresa May had done something terrible in the House of Commons and she was ousted by a thousand constituents, when 23,000 people had voted for you a few months earlier.

THERESA MAY: Well, you wouldn't be being ousted by a thousand constituents. And I mean you've chosen the figure of a thousand, presumably it's the number who might petition in a system. I mean you have. If you have a petitioning system, you'd have to set, obviously decide what that figure was.

But then, I think what is being described is a situation where there's then a bi-election where there's a further election takes place and I think that it - you're then asking the people, do they actually trust this particular individual - do they want this particular individual to carry on being their Member of Parliament, but it's giving them an opportunity to do that.

JON SOPEL: Well, let's talk about why this has all come about most recently and the rows there have been over MPs pay and MPs allowances and particularly Derek Conway. We've had Nick Clegg talking about getting rid of the MP as a Derek Conway clause. An MP is able to claim four hundred pounds a month for food on their second home without any receipts. Why.

THERESA MAY: Well that's - the system has grown up because frankly, on that particular allowance, and I've said, I mean I believe that that allowance we should take that housing allowance out - that's my personal view, take that housing allowance out. I think we should

JON SOPEL: Just get rid of it.

THERESA MAY: There would need to be an increase in salary which would allow - because MPs, most MPs do have to have two homes, that's an extra cost of being a Member of Parliament, but I think - I would go


JON SOPEL: .. still got to buy food.

THERESA MAY: But on the receipting issue Jon, yes, which I mean, which is why I think you would have to increase salary to in some sense make up for the fact that you took that allowance out. But on receipts, I mean I think MPs should be putting in receipts. I think we should be operating on the same basis as people are required to operate in the outside world.

And that's one of the aspects in which there has been this break down of trust again. People feel that they're being required to meet all sorts of regulations and rules and requirements in their areas of work and MPs are not imposing those sort of restrictions on themselves. So I think there is a very real - that's why there is this root and branch look, review of our whole system of allowances taking place at the moment.

JON SOPEL: And I just want to digest something else you just said there in the course of that answer. So you believe at the moment, MPs are under paid.

THERESA MAY: No, what I said was that I think that what should happen in looking at the allowances system. I personally would prefer a system where we didn't have a housing allowance, but you have to recognise that MPs need, most MPs need to have two homes, so you'd probably have to put an increase in salary in order to compensate for that allowance. That raises all sorts of other questions, which is why this has to be looked at very carefully

JON SOPEL: You're saying get rid of allowances but pay MPs more.

THERESA MAY: No. I said, on the housing allowance, there are a number of costs and budgets that MPs are able to claim from. There's a staffing allowance, which of course is just a budget for employing members of staff. We've suggested as a Party that we should be looking at ways staff could be employed centrally by the House of Commons rather than just by the MPs. You've got to give the MP the freedom to decide the individuals that they're employing.

But there should be a mechanism which would enable the House of Commons to employ them directing. So we would look at doing that on the staffing allowance, on the office budget, where you're paying for the paper clips and print cartridges and the paper and all various other things that are needed to actually manage an office and keep the office going, and service the constituents, I think we should be looking at a stricter regime of receipts.

JON SOPEL: Do you think there has been a culture where MPs have maybe been a little bit, how can one put this, extravagant on claiming their allowances because they feel maybe they're not paid enough and that's a way of bolstering salary.

THERESA MAY: No, well I do think that on the housing allowance, when it originally came in to place, it came in to place at a time I understand it - it was before I came in to parliament, but I understand that it came in to place at a time when salaries were being held down and the housing allowance was introduced. I think we have to cut across all of this.

I think we've got an opportunity now, to actually look at this system, to review it completely and to say, let's put in place a system which people out there, which our voters, the electorate and people generally, can recognise as a system in which they are going to have confidence.

JON SOPEL: And there is a review going on now which the speaker is chairing of all these questions and I think you're sitting on that review. I'd love to sit on the review that decided what my salary should be and what allowances I should get. Do you think it's right that you're the people who are judging this.

THERESA MAY: Well, let's just go through what the process is. That committee, the Members Estimate Committee, there's a small working group of the committee which - I'm not on the small working group - there's a small working group doing a lot of the detailed work, but I sit on that overall committee.

It will make recommendations to the House of Commons and the House of Commons will then vote on that. Now there is a growing feeling, it's something that David Cameron led on actually, he said this some time ago, that MPs should not be voting on their own pay. That we should find a mechanism which means that in future, we're not voting on our own pay and there's a separate review, led by Sir John Baker, which the government has put in place, looking at that whole issue of voting on pay and I think that's (interjection)

JON SOPEL: You suggested to the Speaker that you shouldn't be there because you shouldn't be deciding these issues yourself.

THERESA MAY: But look. The position is that the House of Commons has to decide ultimately, what the procedure is going to be for deciding the allowance. I think it's right that we look at this issue at the moment but that we take in outside expertise and certainly as the Speaker has recently - he made an announcement to MPs about how this was progressing, it will include for example talking to people on the committee on standards in public life, understanding their views as to what parliament should be doing.

JON SOPEL: Would you like to go for the Scottish example where MSPs, more or less have to declare everything. It's all publicly available. You can see whether Theresa has been bought a cup of tea by Jon Sopel or not or whatever it happens to be.

THERESA MAY: I think we need more openness and transparency, that's why David Cameron is going to ask his front benchers. We've taken a lead on this. Front benchers in the Conservative Party will be being asked to produce more transparency about their expenses, their housing allowance and other expenses from the next financial year, so we're trying to set that scene where we recognise that people want to see that greater transparency.

JON SOPEL: I just wonder, whether you feel that you are trusted, whether you are seen by the public as an honourable member.

THERESA MAY: I think there is a break down of trust generally, between people and politicians. I think that's come about for a whole variety of reasons. This issue we've just been talking about, the question of allowances and budgets and expenses, is one aspect of it.

I think there's also another aspect of break down of trust which is about broken promises and we saw a very good example of that in the House of Commons last week with the issue of the European Referendum. Three parties campaigned to have a referendum, only one party was willing to stand up and be counted on that, when the time came in the House of Commons.

So there is a break down of trust. There's much more we can be doing in parliament, we could be giving more power back to people at local government level, through local referendums. We could be giving more power to people to initiate debates and perhaps Bills in the House of Commons. I think we need to open up how we do things, to restore that break down of trust.

JON SOPEL: Theresa May thank you very much indeed for being with us.


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NB:These transcripts were typed from a recording and not copied from original scripts.

Because of the possibility of mis-hearing and the difficulty, in some cases, of identifying individual speakers, the BBC cannot vouch for their accuracy.

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The Politics Show Sunday 09 March 2008 at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.
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