Page last updated at 01:21 GMT, Wednesday, 22 July 2009 02:21 UK

Expenses clean-up bill is passed

MPs in the Commons chamber
The bill was a response to the MPs' expenses scandal

A bill aimed at cleaning up Parliament after the MPs' expenses scandal has become law after getting Royal Assent.

However, the government dropped plans for a legally-binding code of conduct and two new criminal offences for MPs in the face of stiff opposition.

Ministers insisted the changes made for a better bill and that it was vital it became law before the summer recess.

Opponents complained it has been rushed through and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said it would not restore public trust.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill sets up an independent body to authorise MPs' expenses.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw said its speedy approval was imperative for rebuilding public confidence in the way Parliament works, with MPs leaving Westminster for their constituencies.

Nothing really has been done to fix the rotten state of British politics
Nick Clegg
Liberal Democrat leader

When it was introduced, it had been expected to apply eventually to peers as well as MPs.

However, as it returned to the Commons on Tuesday, the Lords had been assured "categorically" it would not apply to them.

Two of three proposed offences - relating to breaking rules on the registration of interests or the ban on paid advocacy - had been dropped.

A bid to scrap Parliamentary privilege, which protects MPs from court action over what they say in the Commons, was also rejected after a surprise Commons defeat for the government.

During Tuesday's debate on amendments made in the House of Lords, which were approved without a vote, Mr Straw faced accusations the bill had been rushed through for "public relations purposes" and had since been "emasculated".

Punishment threat

He said "improvements" had been made to the bill and the three main parties had backed plans for a new Parliamentary Standards Authority but they had to work "from a standing start".

He said it had been a difficult process and he would have been condemned if he had resisted making changes.

"I think we have achieved a very much better measure as a result," he said.

In a later interview, Mr Straw said the new authorisation process for expenses, combined with full transparency in the disclosure of claims, would mean past abuses could not happen again.

"Thankfully the expenses scandals will be a thing of the past," he told the BBC.

Jack Straw responds to criticism of the legislation

He said any MP "daft" enough to fiddle their expenses in future would be severely punished.

Shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan said the bill had arrived "in a state of some confusion" and he was pleased "significant" concessions had been made.

"It was obvious that ministers had been required at very short notice to create a bill that had to match the prime minister's press release, initially at least, no matter what the consequences."

The Lib Dems said the government's enthusiasm for a radical reform of the political system in the wake of the expenses scandal had been short-lived.

Nick Clegg said it "beggared belief" that MPs should be about to go on an 82-day recess with so little achieved in the way of real reforms to the House of Lords, party funding and new mechanisms for sacking dishonest MPs.

He had called for Parliament to continue sitting until such measures had been introduced.

"It[the bill] is a fig leaf to cover up the government's abject failure to deliver on the promises it made to the British people at the height of the expenses scandal that it would sort out British politics for good," he said.

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