Page last updated at 20:28 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 21:28 UK

MPs back allowances reform plans


Gordon Brown: "We made big changes that will save the taxpayer money"

The government has won a series of votes on planned MPs' expenses reforms, after it agreed to delay a decision on controversial second homes allowances.

During a heated Commons debate many MPs called for all changes to be left until after an inquiry into the system ends.

But plans were passed to stop Greater London MPs claiming for second homes, for receipts to back up all claims and details of second jobs to be published.

Gordon Brown called these the "biggest changes in 25 years" to expenses.

But the Conservatives said it was a "tragedy" there had been no nationwide reform to second homes allowances, worth up to £24,000 a year, which have been the subject of fierce criticism in recent months.

Ben Wright
There was disbelief on all sides of the chamber as Commons leader Harriet Harman explained the government's strategy
BBC's Ben Wright

Mr Brown's main proposal - for this allowance to be replaced by flat-rate daily expenses for attending Parliament - was dropped on Monday amid opposition from the Conservatives, Lib Dems and some Labour MPs.

This happened less than a week after the prime minister announced the plan on the Downing Street website.

Following an often confusing debate on Thursday, MPs voted to make the Commons' authorities responsible for employing their staff. The decision is subject to a review.

As proceedings began, the government agreed to remove references in another motion for the independent inquiry into expenses - by Sir Christopher Kelly's Committee on Standards in Public Life - to be told to take into account MPs' "attendance at Westminster".

20-mile limit

Previously, all MPs outside inner London could claim the second homes allowance, even if they lived within commuting distance of Westminster.

Now all those representing seats within 20 miles of Parliament will only be entitled to the £7,500 London allowance.

The Commons also agreed to give a senior group of backbenchers, the Members Estimate Committee, the power to amend the "Green Book" governing rules on MPs' expenses.

All changes voted in on Thursday are temporary, as they come ahead of the more thorough review of MPs' expenses by Sir Christopher's committee. His panel will publish its findings later this year.

The votes were seen as a test of the prime minister's authority - a day after the government suffered a shock defeat over its policy on the settlement rights of Gurkhas.

David Cameron said the episode was a defeat for Gordon Brown's authority

Many MPs, including Labour backbenchers, had raised concerns about plans to change their staff's employment status. A bid to stop this change failed.

However, the government has referred the matter to the House of Commons Commission - which is responsible for staff's terms of employment - to consider any "transitional provisions which may be necessary" by 20 October.

After the votes, Mr Brown said: "Since I've been in the House of Commons these are the major changes, the biggest changes I've seen over these 25 years."

He went on: "We have made the first steps to save money for the taxpayers. My job is to listen to the members of the public and hear what they are saying.

"They wanted the system cleaned up. The system is now being cleaned up."

'Complete disaster'

But Conservative leader David Cameron said the decisions amounted to "another humiliating defeat" for the PM's authority.

He added: "Only a week ago he came up with his big idea on YouTube which was to pay MPs to turn up and do their job.

"Today, under pressure from all sides, he had to withdraw any idea that that was going to happen.

"Authority is ebbing away from this government by the day and the tragedy is that the real reform that's needed hasn't been put in place."

For the Lib Dems, MP Norman Baker said the question of expenses had been "a complete disaster for Parliament and for politicians".

He added: "I have despaired at my colleagues in Parliament, of whom too many have been unwilling to be accountable to the public at large...

"We have made some progress but not enough. There are too many MPs who regard it as their right to stay within the rules and spend money according to those rules, even though we write the rules."

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