Page last updated at 19:07 GMT, Saturday, 7 November 2009

Expense reform 'must not unravel'

MPs in the Commons
Sir Christopher Kelly called for a ban on MPs employing their relatives

MPs have reacted angrily after the man in charge of pushing through rules on expenses suggested he might not bring in all the reforms proposed to him.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Sir Ian Kennedy has said he is under "no obligation" to accept all of the plans put forward by Sir Christopher Kelly.

But Labour MP John Mann said that was "unacceptable" and if Sir Ian's plan was to "unravel Kelly" he must resign.

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker also said he was "deeply dismayed" at the reports.

Consultation period

Sir Christopher set out his plan to reform expenses on Wednesday and received the backing of the three main party leaders at Westminster.

His report has now gone before academic lawyer Sir Ian - head of the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) - who said last week that it provided a "clear set of recommendations for reform".

However, the Telegraph said on Saturday that Sir Ian was, in fact, unhappy with some of the proposals, including moves to ban MPs from employing relatives and to compel them to pay back any profits made from the sale of second homes.

Sir Christopher Kelly

MPs will not get to vote on the reforms but a spokesman for Ipsa said it had "a statutory requirement to consult on the content of a new allowances scheme".

"Sir Ian made his position clear when he was nominated as chair - Ipsa's job is to take the reins following the Kelly report and put together a scheme for consulting on," the spokesman added.

However, Mr Mann told the BBC that while consultation might be required, the understanding was that Sir Ian would accept the Kelly proposals "in their entirety".

"His job is to get some proper standards in place on the back of the Kelly review," he said.

"His job is not to unravel Kelly and have a second Kelly review. For better or for worse there should be no quibbling with what Kelly has determined... that should be the terms and conditions under which MPs are elected at the next general election."

'Very damaging'

Mr Baker said the Kelly reforms were a "good package" that had been "well received by the public at large".

Responding to suggestions that Sir Ian was concerned about legal challenges to the new rules, Mr Baker said he hoped the Ipsa chairman would only "tweak them at the edges to take account of those sorts of issues rather than re-writing them".

"If he's going to abandon the ban on spouses and allow MPs to continue with mortgages, that rips the heart out of what Christopher Kelly said - there's not very much left after that.

MPs will never again have any say over their allowances
Sir Stuart Bell
Commons' Members Estimates Committee

"It will fuel suspicion, I'm afraid, amongst the public at large that, just as this matter was being put to bed, here is another behind-the-scenes stitch-up," he said.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, agreed that major changes to the Kelly report would be "very damaging".

In particular, he said, any move to abandon plans to make MPs pay back capital gains was "inconceivable".

"That's precisely what the public wants - that MPs should not make any personal gain out of having received public funds to carry out their duties."

Trust 'restored'

But Labour MP Stuart Bell, who sits on the Commons' Members Estimates Committee, said public trust would be restored whether or not the Kelly report was accepted in full, because whatever the eventual system, it would take the issue of expenses completely out of MPs' hands.

"MPs will never again have any say over their allowances," he told the BBC.

"We have MPs now arguing about the price of a fridge. It gets to the absurd and the sooner we get away from that the public will get their confidence back and Parliament will get on with the role that it's supposed to do, holding the executive to account."

Sir Ian Kennedy will be left in no doubt of quite what delicate ground he is walking across
Carole Walker
BBC political correspondent

BBC political correspondent Carole Walker said that she understood that Sir Ian's remarks had been intended to "assert his independence" and highlight his legal requirement to consult on the proposals.

"This is a system that he is going to have to oversee, he is going to have to run and he's got to make sure that he comes up with a body of measures which are practical.

"I think that's what he was trying to do but his words seemed to suggest he was going to go a bit further than that."

Our correspondent added: "Given the response that there has been, Sir Ian Kennedy will be left in no doubt of quite what delicate ground he is walking across.

"If he takes the plans, he has a consultation exercise and he implements the broad thrust of the proposals, then I think by and large most MPs will accept that.

"If he is seen to be trying to unpick them, trying to unravel them, to change them radically, then I think that he certainly will face a very uncomfortable ride indeed."

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