Page last updated at 15:31 GMT, Thursday, 15 December 2011

MPs' expenses regime under fire in the Commons

MPs from across the political spectrum have launched an attack on the independent expenses body but stopped short of calling for the regime to be broken up.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) was set up after the expenses crisis to handle the way MP's pay and expenses are administered.

But MPs characterised it as "cumbersome", "not fit for purpose" and bad value for money for the taxpayers, amid plans to amend the regime.

They were debating a report from the cross-party Committee on Members' Expenses on the operation of Ipsa, on 15 December 2011.

The report suggests a number of changes to Ipsa's operations, such as flat-rate allowances to fund second homes and travel, if independent research suggested the changes would save money.

And it urges legislation to force the watchdog to change unless it acted by April.

Opening the debate committee chair, Conservative MP Adam Afriyie said the report's motivation was to reduce the cost of bureaucracy and provide better value for money.

"There is a huge burden on members in terms of the time it takes to navigate the expenses system, the unnecessary time taken to do so and the cost burden that places on our constituents.

It also took time away from members and their staff to focus on their constituents, he added.

Mr Afriyie insisted the recommendations would preserve Ipsa's independence but the government said it found a number of the proposals "unacceptable".

Constitutional Reform Minister Mark Harper urged MPs to support an amendment to the main motion - in the name of Conservative MP Guto Bebb, and backed by several coalition backbenchers - calling for the report to be referred to Ipsa "as part of its annual review".

Labour's David Winnick said the public failed to understand MPs' expenses included their researchers' salaries.

"The sooner this silly and unnecessary term 'expenses' is changed to a more relevant term, the better it will be," he said.

And Liberal Democrat Bob Russell believed that paying his staffs' wages should not be classed as his expenses.

Shadow justice minister Wayne David said Labour was "firmly behind" the principles underlining the work of Ipsa, but conceded there were initially "a number of shortcomings" in the way the system was administered.

He stressed that its independence must be "unequivocally maintained" and the House "should not have any determining influence over any aspect of its expenses regime".

MPs backed Mr Bebb's amendment instead of voting on the main motion.

Mr Bebb supported several of the report's recommendations but was concerned that if the House were to divide on the matter it would be rejected which would be a "great shame".

Mr Afriyie accepted the amendment because it would not prevent the government taking further action.

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