Page last updated at 09:30 GMT, Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Watchdog warns expenses reforms must be implemented

Sir Christopher Kelly
Sir Christopher headed a seven month inquiry into MPs' expenses

Standards watchdog Sir Christopher Kelly says he will be "disappointed" if his proposals to reform MPs' expenses are not carried out in full.

He said MPs should not buy second homes or employ family but a new body is considering which reforms to implement.

Sir Christopher said it was "not fair" to say they were being watered down, as the consultation was still under way.

But he said his original plans were "well founded", following a seven month inquiry, and he felt they were "right".

Sir Christopher was speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme after the committee on standards in public life, which he chairs, published its response to the new expenses consultation.

'Reasonable commute'

It raised concerns that a suggested restriction on those MPs who could claim to rent a second home - to those with constituencies outside London's public transport zones - was actually "more generous" than current rules.

Sir Christopher's committee had recommended stopping all MPs with seats within "a reasonable commuting distance" of Parliament from claiming - pointing out that many other people commute from outside London.

FROM THE TODAY PROGRAMME

While basing it on travel zones had "the advantage of simplicity ... it appears to be less restrictive than Parliament has already agreed and less robust than the committee had envisaged", the committee said.

The committee also stressed that if MPs who already owned second homes were to be allowed to keep them for a transitional period of up to five years - they must be made to give up any profits made on them during that time.

Sir Ian, who was selected to head the new body by a committee of long-serving MPs, has suggested that it should be for Parliament to decide whether that happens - as it may require a change in the law.

And Sir Christopher's committee said that employing family members at public expense was "unacceptable" - Sir Ian has said he agrees it should be banned but the consultation document invites other views.

We still think they are right
Sir Christopher Kelly on his committee's proposals to overhaul MPs' expenses

Sir Christopher told the BBC it should not come as a surprise that his committee wanted to see all its original recommendations - drawn up after "an exhaustive process" - come into force.

"We still think they are right," he said.

But asked whether his proposals had been watered down, he said: "I don't think that's a fair account of what's happening. This new body under Sir Ian Kennedy is doing what they are supposed to be doing.

"They, not us, have the responsibility for administering this new scheme. Under the act which set them up they are obliged to consult before they do so."

'Never inconceivable'

He said he had spoken to Sir Ian on Monday who had pointed out he was carrying out a consultation and no decisions had been taken yet.

However, Sir Christopher added: "I would be disappointed if our recommendations are not implemented... in full, because... I have heard no arguments since we produced them which we did not consider when we were making our recommendations."

Asked if he would consider resigning, if they are watered down, Sir Christopher said it would depend what Sir Ian brought in but while it was "never inconceivable" he thought it "extremely unlikely".

In its response to the expenses consultation, Sir Christopher's committee notes that Sir Ian's proposed changes to the £10,000 a year communications allowance - limiting claims to advertising for surgery times and producing contact cards - appeared to be tougher than it had envisaged.

Sir Ian's body - the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority - has also proposed scrapping the resettlement grant - worth up to £65,000 per MPs - entirely for those leaving Parliament - Sir Christopher's recommendation had been to reduce it.

Last month Sir Ian said he wanted to "be fair" and air different arguments using the consultation document, and on the issue of MPs surrendering profits on second homes said: "I don't recognise the notion that we were watering down on capital gains."



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