Page last updated at 20:19 GMT, Thursday, 23 April 2009 21:19 UK

Daily rate 'may boost MP turnout'

Gordon Brown
The PM wants to replace second homes expenses with an attendance allowance

Downing Street has defended plans for a flat-rate attendance allowance for MPs, saying it would encourage them to turn up to Parliament.

Under the current system MPs do not have to turn up but still get their allowances, said the PM's spokesman.

Gordon Brown intends to put his plan to scrap second homes expenses in favour of a daily rate to the vote next week.

But Lib Dem deputy Vince Cable said he believed there was so much opposition to it, it would not go through.

He told BBC One's Question Time the idea was "absurd and unworkable" and said, while there was agreement on some aspects of Mr Brown's proposals, "this particular proposal about clocking out will not go through".

Sir Christopher Kelly, whose independent committee on standards in public life began a separate inquiry into MPs' expenses on Thursday, told the BBC: "I think the public would have great difficulty in the notion that claims for the reimbursement of expenses should not need to be backed by receipts."

'Flawed'

But he said Mr Brown had assured him the proposals were only interim measures, ahead of the committee's findings - expected at the end of the year.

Tory leader David Cameron and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg have also said the idea is "flawed" and less transparent than the current, much criticised system - under which MPs representing seats outside inner London can claim up to £24,000 a year for their second homes.

Under the current system MPs do not have to turn up and they still get their allowances
Prime Minister's spokesman

They say with the current system MPs must provide receipts, whereas a daily allowance would essentially be a "cheque for turning up to work".

There are also concerns it may end up costing more as it is not yet known what the daily rate would be.

Both opposition parties have put forward their own proposals to reform the second homes expenses.

But Downing Street said Mr Brown intended to put his plan to the vote next week.

'Practical difficulties'

His spokesman said: "There are questions with maintaining the second home allowance even if it is amended. For example you continue to give a very large incentive to MPs to take out very big mortgages at the taxpayer's expense.

"I think the other issue relates to the extent to which MPs are actually required to attend Parliament. One of the advantages of the daily allowance is that it does provide them with an incentive to attend."

He said there was a need to look at how a daily attendance allowance would be enforced and work in practice.

But he added: "Under the current system MPs do not have to turn up and they still get their allowances."

The shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Philip Hammond, told Question Time he was not sure it would go through as the Lib Dems, Tories and, he had heard, "quite a lot of Labour backbenchers" were against it.

Meanwhile the cross-party group Parliament First, which includes Labour MPs Tony Wright, Michael Meacher and Graham Allen, has written to the prime minister asking him not to rush measures through.

They wrote: "We feel that there are serious practical difficulties which need to be thought through, and that a measure of this far-reaching significance would benefit from a little more time, scrutiny and public debate, rather than being precipitately rushed through."

The prime minister's proposal, announced on the Downing Street website on Tuesday, took many in Westminster by surprise as he had previously indicated he would wait for Sir Christopher's inquiry to finish before making changes.

But he said there was a need for "immediate" action to restore public trust. It follows a series of revelations about MPs' and ministers' claims under the second homes allowance.

Claims by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Work minister Tony McNulty are both under investigation, although both say they acted within the rules.



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