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We have to face up to the fact, which has been mentioned several times today, that there is a lack of public confidence in some aspects of the allowances system. Yes, the media play a role to some extent because they love to go on about our allowances, expenses and salaries, and give the very wrong impression about this money that is given to us each month. Of course, it
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is nothing of the kind. Nevertheless, what has recently come out on what are described as second homes has understandably caused a great deal of concern. I am concerned that there has been a form of abuse, and that simply cannot be justified. The report does not deal with that. The public must be confident that the money that we claim for allowances and expenses is above board and legitimate. Except for the abuse that came to light and was duly exposed, there is no dispute about the secretarial allowance—the Fees Office pays it directly. However, the same does not apply to second homes. I happen to claim for rented accommodation. I claim the rent, the council tax and so on because the need for the accommodation arises from my parliamentary and constituency duties. I am happy for all the details to come out in October, but are we confident that everything about mortgage interest and so on is above board? Are we confident that what is claimed is what should be claimed, and that the public money that is claimed is justified? I have doubts about that, and the matter needs to be cleared up.

We are often our own worst enemies. We do an important job—parliamentary democracy depends on the House and we should receive allowances and so on that are justified. When I first became a Member of Parliament, there was no secretarial allowance. That position has rightly been changed. Many other matters that needed to be rectified have been put right. However, I remain of the view that we should be careful that, while we preach to others and set guidelines about public expenditure, we cannot be accused of abusing the system. Although I welcome some aspects of the report—they are good and should help matters—I am not certain that it will restore public confidence in the way we would like.

5.6 pm

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): A few days ago, after the Leader of the House gave us the good news that she would table a motion to enable the privacy and security of our home addresses to be maintained, an honourable Labour Member approached me and said in all seriousness, “Julian, what do you think about the prospect of establishing a trade union for Members of Parliament?” I think that he had me in mind for the role of shop steward—not quite the climactic outcome that I had in mind after six long years as a shadow Defence Minister. However, he had rather a good point because, as the hon. Member for North Durham (Mr. Jones) revealed in a previous debate, no security information was apparently considered by the House authorities or put before the court before the crazy decision was made to release our home addresses en masse in easily accessible form for the benefit of any troublemaker or terrorist at home or abroad.

I did the Information Commissioner an injustice on a previous occasion because I assumed that he had first suggested releasing our addresses. In fact, the matter first arose when the information appeal tribunal said that private addresses should be revealed, and the three eminent judges, in their wisdom, upheld the decision. On 25 June, 50 to 60 Members of Parliament attended a meeting with the Information Commissioner and, consequently, he has issued a statement. I shall briefly put some of it on the record.

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The Information Commissioner states that his office

He goes on to say that

He concludes that

about whom a freedom of information request is made—

As the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) pointed out, once every four or five years we have to reveal our constituency address in the process of getting elected. But the fact that we have to do that with some of our addresses, some of the time, is no reason whatever for our having to do it with all our addresses, all the time, in an easily accessible form. Of course, if someone who is targeting a particular MP and means to track him or her down in order to do him or her harm puts in enough effort, it will be possible to do so. However, that does not cater for a situation in which someone with a grudge, someone with an obsession, a follower of a political cause or a self-taught follower of al-Qaeda, at home or abroad—who will not even have heard of most of the Members of this House—goes on the internet, conveniently finds 646 addresses and sends 646 packages containing something explosive, horrible or, at the very least, abusive to 646 unprotected mail boxes. The proposal is absolutely insane.

Patrick Hall (Bedford) (Lab): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Lewis: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I will not, because of the time.

Finally, let me say something to those hon. Members who are worried about what the press say about our deliberations today. This is my first experience of a total media black-out. Journalists have again and again admitted to me privately that they have no answers to the points that I have made, but time and again they have refused to put anything in their papers. Even The Daily Telegraph refused to publish a letter in reply. Could that conceivably be something to do with the fact that one of the people who took the case to court was a journalist on The Sunday Telegraph who then proceeded to write an inane half-page article about how vital it was to reveal our home addresses, to ensure that we were not fiddling our expenses? He ought to be ashamed of himself, as should the media. I am grateful to the Leader of the House, who has done her duty so well in this event.

5.11 pm

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): One of the problems with this debate is that most of us quite like the members of the Members Estimate Committee; we just think that
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they are wrong in one or two areas. They are wrong in believing that their measures will do away with some of the criticism, particularly in the media, but also from some of the public. In August 1944, Gallup asked the public what they thought about politicians. Some 36 per cent. thought that they were acting in the country’s interest and 57 per cent. thought that they were acting in their own or their party’s interest.

Let me deal with the issue of the second residence. I say “residence”, because it is important to get across the fact that the nature of our job means that, year in year out, most of us have to maintain two residences—one in our constituency and one in London. Helpfully, the report identifies the considerable costs of hotels, but even in spite of the cost, that is not a very suitable way to live, either for Members or their families. Members’ families have to put up with a considerable amount of inconvenience anyway. To add to that is quite unjustifiable.

We should also recognise that both society and this House have changed. As our panel said in its evidence to the MEC, this is the first time that all three party leaders have young families. That is unprecedented. Many more Members of Parliament have young families. As we saw at Easter, school holidays do not always coincide with our recesses. We see that every year in the summer, too. Often, families want to be able to be together, which they cannot in a bare-boards room.

Another rather odd thing is the position that the MEC took on making the property habitable, rather than having just the four bare walls. The MEC makes a nod in that direction, saying:

That is in the report, but it is not in the recommendations and no figure is identified, which is unfortunate. The MEC sees no justification for continuing with that arrangement—in other words, for replacing that furniture or those fittings. I presume that if even a prisoner’s television breaks down or their bed wears out, they get a replacement. That is an inadequacy of the report and the amendment seeks to address it.

The MEC also implicitly assumes that there is one single pattern for Members’ accommodation, namely that they have their main home in their constituency and an additional residence in London. I see one of the members of the MEC shaking his head, but that is exactly the way in which the report is written. In fact, that is true for about 80 per cent. of us. For a variety of reasons, about 20 per cent. of Members—often those who were Ministers before 1999—have to have their main residence in London, and they cannot keep on changing their residences back and forth.

We therefore need flexibility, rather than a rigid system. That is the problem with some of the recommendations, which would create a bureaucratic, uniform system. The report talks about an expanded green book—an ever-expanding rule book—but in a short space of time, that could grow to achieve the proportions of the tax code. That might be familiar to some of those in the Department of Resources, but I do not think that it is a sensible way for us to go.

3 July 2008 : Column 1120

If Members look at their own claims, they will find that the great majority relate to mortgage interest or rent, plus utilities and council tax, so we are going to spend large amounts of audit money dealing with a small part of our expenses. The same applies to office costs, because a large proportion of them is salaries. Will there be some cases in which there are problems? Yes, but they will be revealed not through an audit, not even with the £1,200-a-day PricewaterhouseCoopers people looking at the matter. They will be revealed by other discontented members of staff. That is true not only in our organisation but in all organisations.

We therefore need proportionality. All companies and organisations need to examine how much they spend on creating a system to ensure that there is proper expenditure of their money. They must ensure that this is done in a proportionate way and that they are not spending £100 in order to save 2s/6d. I fear, however, that in response to media campaigns, the MEC has gone overboard in this regard. One thing that I know about consultants is that they always want to find a reason for being employed on the next contract. If a consultant goes into an organisation and spends three days rooting around, they will end up wanting to run the business. They will end up trying to tell us how to be Members of Parliament, just as a previous standards commissioner here tried to take on cases and act as an ombudsman on whether we were doing our job properly. The process is expensive, undesirable and unnecessary, which is why the amendment is right.

5.17 pm

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): There is an immense naivety governing this debate. If we imagine that, by passing the well thought out motion tabled by the Members Estimate Committee, we shall somehow restore public confidence, or that by rejecting the amendment tabled by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig), we shall continue not to have the confidence of the public, we are living in cloud cuckoo land.

One of two headlines will greet us at breakfast tomorrow. If the recommendations of the Members Estimate Committee go through, the headline will be “MPs to get £30 a day just for turning up”. If the right hon. Gentleman’s amendment, which I intend to support, is passed, the headline will be “MPs vote to keep the John Lewis list”. Whichever way we vote, we will continue to be vilified and ridiculed until we have the guts—which we certainly did not show in the previous series of votes—to stand up for ourselves, to defend the system and to tell people why we have that system.

We should tell people—because it is true—that if they pay someone less than a GP is paid, but demand, as they would not demand of a GP, that that person should then run—

Mr. Speaker: I am sorry to interrupt the right hon. Lady. I rarely interrupt her, but we must deal with the amendments to the motion on Members’ expenses.

It being one and a half hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Speaker put the Question s necessary to dispose of proceedings on the motions relating to Members’ expenses and Members’ home addresses, pursuant to Order [ 1 July ] .

3 July 2008 : Column 1121

Amendment proposed: (d) in line 2, leave out from ‘578)’ to end and add

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 144.
Division No. 253]
[5.20 pm


Ainger, Nick
Allen, Mr. Graham
Amess, Mr. David
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Banks, Gordon
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Beckett, rh Margaret
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Betts, Mr. Clive
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blizzard, Mr. Bob
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butterfill, Sir John
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Dowd, Jim
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Gapes, Mike
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Greenway, Mr. John
Griffith, Nia
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Havard, Mr. Dai
Hesford, Stephen
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Keen, Alan
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Kirkbride, Miss Julie

Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Lloyd, Tony
Lucas, Ian
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, Mrs. Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Miller, Andrew
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Osborne, Sandra
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Robertson, John
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruane, Chris
Russell, Christine
Seabeck, Alison
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Spink, Bob
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Tami, Mark
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watkinson, Angela
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wilshire, Mr. David
Wilson, Phil
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woodward, rh Mr. Shaun
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Ayes:

Helen Jones and
Anne Moffat

Alexander, Danny
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baird, Vera
Baker, Norman
Balls, rh Ed
Bayley, Hugh
Begg, Miss Anne
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bell, Sir Stuart
Berry, Roger
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Bottomley, Peter
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brennan, Kevin
Brooke, Annette
Browne, rh Des
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Bryant, Chris
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Burt, Alistair
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Creagh, Mary
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Denham, rh Mr. John
Duncan, Alan
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Efford, Clive
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Field, Mr. Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Don

Fox, Dr. Liam
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goggins, Paul
Goldsworthy, Julia
Goodman, Helen
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Grogan, Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hall, Patrick
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Dr. Evan
Hayes, Mr. John
Healey, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holmes, Paul
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howarth, David
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunter, Mark
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keetch, Mr. Paul
Key, Robert
Kramer, Susan
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lazarowicz, Mark
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Linton, Martin
Luff, Peter
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Maples, Mr. John
Martlew, Mr. Eric
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Morgan, Julie
Mulholland, Greg
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Osborne, Mr. George
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pound, Stephen
Purnell, rh James
Randall, Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Bob
Selous, Andrew
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, Sir Robert
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Matthew
Teather, Sarah
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Weir, Mr. Mike
Wicks, Malcolm

Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Noes:

Nick Harvey and
David Maclean
Question accordingly agreed to.
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