Page last updated at 22:59 GMT, Wednesday, 2 December 2009

MPs approve expenses panel amid row over Jackie Ballard

Jackie Ballard
Ms Ballard lost her seat at the 2001 general election

MPs have approved the new independent body which will run their expenses system - despite a row about a former Lib Dem MP who will sit on its board.

By law the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) must have a former MP on its panel.

But some Tory MPs were unhappy at the choice of Jackie Ballard saying she had not been an MP for long enough.

The Lib Dems blocked their attempts to unseat Ms Ballard with a rarely used Parliamentary procedure.

Ms Ballard, MP for Taunton from 1997 to 2001, will sit alongside auditor Isobel Sharp, businessman Ken Olisa and judge Lord Justice Scott Baker on Ipsa's board - which will be chaired by Professor Ian Kennedy.

More experienced

But Conservative MPs Sir Nicholas Winterton and Christopher Chope had tried to introduce an amendment to remove Ms Ballard; they wanted her to be replaced by the former Tory MP Elizabeth Peacock.

Sir Nicholas told MPs that Ms Ballard "who served in this House for just four years is not an adequately experienced in order to represent all members of this House on this very important authority [Ipsa]".

He said he believed someone more experienced was needed "who has been out of this House for at least one Parliament ... to bring a wealth of knowledge to the discussions which are clearly going to take place in the authority".

This particular individual doesn't in fact have the appropriate advantages, experience and assets to represent members of this House
Sir Nicholas Winterton

He also asked whether someone whose "job is mainly lobbying should actually be the person to represent members of Parliament" on Ipsa.

"This particular individual doesn't in fact have the appropriate advantages, experience and assets to represent members of this House," he said.

But Lib Dem frontbencher David Heath said the people on the panel had to be selected by the Speaker "on merit" and on the "basis of fair and open competition".

'Sniped at'

He accused the MPs of "picking and choosing members of an independent body which suited their own personal views".

He suggested, as Ipsa must have an MP on the panel, the efforts to block Ms Ballard were actually "yet another attempt to slow down the process of introducing proper reform in this House of Commons".

"It is a process that has been constantly been sniped at by certain members who wish to retain the old practices."

Sir Nicholas pointed out he was retiring at the next general election but would "fight to the death" to ensure the future of the House of Commons.

However Mr Heath moved his own amendment, that "the original motion be now not put" - quoting Erskine May, the authority on parliamentary procedure, to support his argument. The procedure had only been used three times in 66 years.

He argued that it was his intention that it fail - as if it did so it would effectively block the amendment to drop Ms Ballard.

It was then defeated by 194 votes to 41 and Ipsa's membership was approved without a vote.

Sir Nicholas condemned it as a "devious device" which he said had been used to "seek to silence transparent, open and important debate".

Conservative MP Peter Bottomley, who said he would have voted to keep Jackie Ballard on the panel, condemned the Lib Dem move as "illiberal and undemocratic".

Conservative chief whip Patrick McLoughlin said if it had succeeded then "the House would not be able to vote on the setting-up of Ipsa".

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