Page last updated at 19:41 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 20:41 UK

MPs' 'gentlemen's club must end'


Gordon Brown: 'Westminster cannot operate like some gentlemen's club'

Centuries of self-regulation by MPs must end and an independent body be set up to oversee Members of Parliament, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has said.

He said Westminster "can't operate like some gentlemen's club" in which MPs are "judge and jury" of "pay and rations".

It follows a meeting of party leaders about how to bring in interim changes to the much-criticised expenses system.

Tory leader David Cameron backed the reforms but said an immediate general election was needed.

He told BBC News: "I have been arguing for all these changes we have to make but the prime minister is just blocking the public out.

"He is behaving as if he is just running this gentlemen's club.

"What we need to do is ask people to be involved. That means we have got to have a general election. This Parliament has sat for too long. Its members have lost touch. Its government is completely paralysed."

It was totally unacceptable behaviour, I don't support it
Gordon Brown on Hazel Blears

The cross party agreement on new expenses rules includes a £1,250 a month cap on rent or mortgage payments, a ban on "flipping" of designated second homes to maximise earnings and claiming for furniture and stamp duty.

It follows damaging revelations in the Daily Telegraph based on leaked receipts of MPs' claims and comes just two hours after Speaker Michael Martin announced he would step down - amid pressure over his handling of the expenses issue.

'Fundamental rethink'

Mr Brown's proposal would mean the new Speaker would have a much different role, BBC political editor Nick Robinson said.

At a press conference after the meeting with Speaker Michael Martin and the leaders of major and minority parties, Mr Brown said: "I believe that the keystone of any reform must be to switch from self-regulation to independent external regulation."

He added: "Westminster cannot operate like some gentleman's club where the members make up the rules and operate them among themselves.

"If MPs continue to set their own codes and rules, however objectively they try to do so, the public will always question the transparency and the standards that they rightly demand."

Mr Brown said the government would make legislative time available for votes on MPs' salaries and allowances to be devolved to an outside body.

He said all opposition parties had "welcomed in principle" a switch to independent regulation.

Mr Brown was asked about an announcement earlier that Labour MPs who had "defied the rules" would not be allowed to stand for re-election.

He denied that the looseness of the rules meant, effectively, none may be punished - pointing out two MPs, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, had already been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Asked about Communities Secretary Hazel Blears' failure to pay capital gains tax on the sale of the flat she designated her "second home" for expenses purposes, he said that had been "unacceptable" but would not say she would be forced to stand down.

Speaker statement

"It is not as you will know, either against the law or against the rules of the House at the moment."

Ms Blears has said she has paid back the £13,332 in respect of capital gains tax.

Mr Brown also said Labour MP Margaret Moran's reported claim for £22, 500 for a second home in Southampton - 100 miles from her Luton constituency - was "totally unacceptable". She has repaid the money.

Michael Martin, who will stand down on 21 June, has already urged MPs to stop making claims until new interim rules is in place.

The meeting organised by Mr Martin for all party leaders was intended to thrash out immediate proposals to reform the allowances system - ahead of the findings of an independent review, due in the autumn.

The Speaker would announce the full detail of the proposals to the Commons within the next few hours, Mr Brown said.

The Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said that MPs had lost the confidence of the British public, but welcomed the changes agreed by the party leaders during their meeting with the Speaker.

He added: "People are looking with disgust and with dismay at what is going on in Westminster.

"The days of MPs being judge and jury of their own pay, judge and jury of their own expenses, are over."

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