Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Thursday, 5 November 2009

MP fears over reduced allowances

Houses of Parliament
Some MPs say cutting allowances could put poorer people off the job

Several MPs have attacked proposals to clean up their expenses, amid reports some will seek a pay rise to compensate them for money lost.

A six-month independent inquiry said MPs should rent, not buy, second homes and backed cuts to other allowances.

Labour's Austin Mitchell said it could mean MPs are not paid enough to do the job and may "castrate" Parliament.

The review said expenses should not be used as a substitute for pay and other MPs say the findings must be accepted.

All the party leaders have said MPs should accept the proposals put forward following a major review of the much-criticised system of expenses.

'Unrealistic and unfair'

Among other recommendations are a ban on MPs' employing family, more powers for an independent regulator, any further capital gains made on taxpayer funded properties to be given up and reduced travel claims.

Backbencher Mr Mitchell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was "unrealistic and unfair" of party leaders to tell MPs to "accept it and shut up".

Some people may consider thinking: 'Well, might as well go now and take what is available'
Andrew Dismore

"It is in the interests of mandarins and ministers and leaders to have a weak Parliament with members who aren't well-paid enough to do their job," he said.

"In pursuing that, they are actually neutralising Parliament, castrating us in a sense."

Work and pensions minister Helen Goodman admitted she had not read Sir Christopher Kelly's report in full but told the BBC she had some concerns.

"With Kelly, we seem to have been looking at the expenses first and the consequences for who can and cannot afford to be a parliamentarian fall out of that.

"That seems to me to be completely the wrong order. I am not convinced that this is good for members with small children and families."

'Go now'

And there were predictions a recommendation that MPs who stand down voluntarily no longer get a generous resettlement grant may prompt more to announce their early retirement.

Currently the grant is worth between £32,383 and £64,766 per MP, £30,000 of which is tax free.

Senior Labour MP Andrew Dismore told the BBC: "People who may want to retire at the next election will leave with virtually nothing. Some people may consider thinking: 'Well, might as well go now and take what is available'."

Sir Christopher Kelly
Sir Christopher's committee carried out a six-month inquiry

Conservative MP Roger Gale had concerns about a central rental agency finding homes for members of Parliament.

"The thought of some Parliamentary estate agency deciding whether or not I qualify for a one bedroom, two bedroom, three bedroom, house with a garden because I've got a dog or a cat is a nightmare," he said.

The proposals will have to go to a new body, the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which Harriet Harman has said "must consult MPs and others when drawing up the allowances regime".

Sir Christopher has urged the new body to implement all of his proposals and in the Commons on Wednesday, several MPs stood up to warn against "cherry picking" the ones they liked, and disposing of those they did not.

'Dreadful allowance'

The review recommends that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority also be given responsibility for setting MPs' pay and pensions - so they are protected against politically-motivated decisions not to award them pay rises.

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Solicitor General Vera Baird told the BBC on Wednesday that pay could be looked at as part of the process of implementing expenses reforms.

She told the BBC if there was a danger "ordinary" people on poorly paid jobs were going to be "priced out" of Parliament "then of course pay will have to be looked at".

But when he launched his report, Sir Christopher said he was "absolutely confident" that none of his proposals would discourage people from becoming MPs.

"The committee does not need to be reminded of the importance of making sure that Parliament does not become the preserve of the wealthy," he said.

"But if there is any risk of that happening it should be addressed through the level of MPs' pay not by retaining over-generous arrangements for the reimbursement of expenses.

"It is confusion between pay and expenses which has got the House of Commons into its present difficulties."

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