Page last updated at 04:19 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 05:19 UK

MPs vote to keep homes expenses

House of Commons
MPs will face greater scrutiny of how they spend their expenses

MPs have voted to keep their £24,000 second home allowances, but have decided not to award themselves above-inflation pay rises.

They rejected tougher auditing and an alternative expenses regime proposed by a Commons review.

The Tories and Lib Dems condemned the decision but MPs who backed keeping the allowances said they were fair.

But MPs voted for a 2.25% pay rise, rejecting a proposed £650-a-year "catch-up" payment.


A review by the Commons Members Estimate Committee had recommended the additional costs allowance (ACA) be replaced and an end to the so-called "John Lewis list" - the use of public money to pay for items like new kitchens and household goods such as TVs.

However, MPs voted by a majority of 28 to retain the ACA and the list, and to have their spending looked at only by internal, rather than external, auditors.

It gives the impression of an abuse of public expenditure
David Winnick, Labour MP

More than 30 government ministers opted to keep the ACA, including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Northern Ireland Secretary Shaun Woodward.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's parliamentary private secretaries Ian Austin and Angela Smith also voted in this way.

Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, a member of the estimate committee, said: "It was a total own-goal on the part of the House of Commons. An opportunity to put our house in order and be seen to put our house in order has been passed up.

"They took all the nice bits of the package but not the ones they didn't like. They took the spoonful of sugar but refused the medicine."

For the Conservatives, shadow work and pensions secretary Chris Grayling said: "When Parliament has been under fire in the way it has been over the last few months, it is essential our leaders set the right example.

"David Cameron and the shadow cabinet voted for the abolition of the John Lewis list whilst Gordon Brown and his most senior ministers went Awol. They are showing blatant contempt for very real public concerns."

After the expenses vote announcement was read out, Mr Cameron was heard to exclaim: "Where's the government?"

'Extraordinary situation'

But Don Touhig, a Labour MP and former minister who spearheaded the drive against reforms, insisted the ACA was necessary.

He said: "I think most fair-minded people would accept that the extraordinary situation of an MP needing to live both in his or her constituency and London requires an allowance to support that cost."

Conservative former minister Ann Widdecombe, who backed keeping the ACA, said MPs had to "have the guts to stand up for ourselves, to defend the system and say why it is we have that system".

Otherwise they would "continue to be vilified and "continue to be ridiculed", she added.

MPs had been able to claim up to £250 per item for their second homes without producing receipts - but that threshold was reduced to £25 in April.

The existence of the "John Lewis" list, used by Commons officials to determine the maximum value of goods to be claimed for, became known during an information tribunal earlier this year.

Under the plans rejected by the House of Commons, the ACA would have been replaced by an overnight expenses allowance of £19,600 a year for accommodation.


MPs would also have been given a £30-a-day subsistence allowance without receipts, up to a maximum of £4,600 every year.

The expenses review was prompted by the furore over MP Derek Conway's payments of more than £40,000 to his son for work as a parliamentary researcher, despite him being a full-time student in Newcastle.

He was suspended from Parliament for 10 days and was ordered to repay £13,161. Mr Conway also lost the Conservative whip.

Meanwhile, MPs voted in line with the government's call to reject recommendations for above-inflation pay rises.

Earlier, Mr Brown said MPs should "recognise that the settlements in the public sector for these key workers have been around 2.3, 2.4 and 2.5 (%), when they vote on this year's pay".

An independent review by Sir John Baker had recommended that MPs' pay be linked to the public sector average earnings index, and include a £650-a-year "catch-up" payment - which would amount to around 4.4% rise in total.

But the government opposed this. It wanted MPs to receive the median average of "a wide basket of public sector workers" - amounting to around 2.25%.

MPs rejected a backbench move to raise pay by 2.3% this year and about 4.7% next year.

They backed the 2.25% rise without a vote, along with a recommendation that they should no longer vote on their own pay.

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