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16 July 2008 : Column 258

Mrs. May: I shall expand on that point later in my speech. I believe that it is one of the issues of most concern to our constituents. It is not essential for Members who come to the House and look for other accommodation to have a flat of their own that they need to furnish.

My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned whipped votes on this issue; I merely point him to the fact that it is because the Government were unwilling to stand by the Prime Minister’s undertaking to support the Members Estimate Committee report—they failed to whip the votes—that the House is in this position today.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): The thrust and direction of what the right hon. Lady is saying has warm support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. However, she must accept that we would not be in the mess that we are in today if 21 Conservative Members of Parliament had not voted against openness and transparency, rather than in favour of it. If they had voted with her, what she and I want would have gone through on 3 July.

Mrs. May: I note the hon. Gentleman’s support for the general thrust of what I am saying, but I merely say this to him. The House would not be in this position today if the 29 Liberal Democrat Members who stayed away had turned up to vote on 3 July. They included the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), who, significantly, failed to show leadership on the MEC report.

Dr. Starkey rose—

Mrs. May: I did say that I would give way to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West as well.

Dr. Starkey: I thank the right hon. Lady. May I urge her to take the wise advice given her by the hon. Member for South Staffordshire (Sir Patrick Cormack)? I do not often agree with him, but I do on this occasion.

Mr. Simon Burns (West Chelmsford) (Con): You don’t often smile, either.

Dr. Starkey: I shall pass over the misogyny from the Tory Benches, which one expects; I sympathise with the right hon. Lady on that, as she also suffers from it. I draw her attention to how the debate has gone thus far and point to the evidence that it is giving of the danger of trying to make this a party political issue. In particular, members of the public may recall that the most stupendous examples of abuse have largely come, in the last Parliament and this, from members of her party.

Mrs. May: On that latter point, I should say that there are examples of problems with the use of allowances expenses in respect of Members from all parties in the House.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Name them.

Mrs. May: I could name hon. Members from the Labour party, but I do not intend to, because I want this debate to be about how we take the House forward.

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Mr. Kevan Jones (North Durham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No. I said that I would make progress after I had taken the intervention from the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West; I shall take some more interventions later in my speech. As I think hon. Members realise, I am normally generous in taking interventions.

I say to the hon. Member for Milton Keynes, South-West that the interventions that there have been that suggest that everything is tickety-boo and that we do not need to look at the issue again reflect an unwillingness to listen to the views out there. It is for all of us to understand those views.

Mr. Kevan Jones rose—

Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab) rose—

Mr. Speaker: Order. The right hon. Lady is not giving way. Ms Mallaber, you should sit down.

Mrs. May: As a party, we have taken a lead in ensuring that information is published about Conservative MPs. In October, we called for greater transparency. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition announced the introduction of the right-to-know form, under which all Front-Bench Conservative MPs are required to detail all their expenses and allowances. The overwhelming majority of Back-Bench Conservative MPs are also providing that information, which will all be published later today.

We are committed to transparency, disclosure and the right-to-know details, and the information will be published. It will include details about Members’ staff, including family members and their salary bands. It has a breakdown of office costs, travel, communications allowances, the additional costs allowances and the costs of staying away from home.

Judy Mallaber: I voted for the Members Estimate Committee report, because we do need to clean up our act. Personally, I claim a very small amount of the additional costs allowance. Can the right hon. Lady explain to me why I should be lectured and forced into whipped business by a party whose leader claims all of the additional costs allowance—more than £21,000—towards his mortgage? I do not do that. Why are we being pushed into whipped business by somebody who makes such a claim?

Mrs. May: Whether the Government choose to whip their Members on this issue is a matter for the Government and the Government Chief Whip, not for me.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): As someone who would like the whole House to come to a sensible judgment on this, I urge colleagues to calm down a little and understand that a real problem has been highlighted by this debate. We are where we are with this debate. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the problem with introducing audit for individual items for a household or flat is that we will go straight back to the John Lewis list? The auditors, of course, will want a reference point, and it is the list that has done so much to drag this House into the mire in the public mind.

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Mrs. May: I agree that the issue of the John Lewis list is the one that has perhaps struck the public mind most as a matter of concern; it is symbolic of the public’s concern about the House. That is why it is important that we do something about the list beyond simply asking that its future be considered.

The right-to-know form that will be published later today is reflected in the terms of our motion. We are asking the House to agree a basic set of principles for a system of expenses and allowances that would be tougher than the regime agreed on 3 July. It is necessary to restore confidence in the House, and I hope that all Members will have that in mind when they come to consider the matter later.

Mr. Kevan Jones: Most of us in the House have one single source of income—our parliamentary salary. The right hon. Lady and her party leader talk about transparency. Will she publish the exact details of the 40 directorships held by members of the shadow Cabinet and of the 65 separate occasions on which, according to the latest Register of Members’ Interests, paid employment was done by members of the shadow Cabinet?

Mrs. May: The hon. Gentleman clearly does not need me to publish those details, as he was reading them from a published document—the Register of Members’ Interests. Members of the shadow Cabinet abide by the rules and requirements. The hon. Gentleman might look to the fact that not only Members on the Conservative Benches hold external appointments and directorships.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: I shall give way one further time, and then make some progress.

Rob Marris: On that latter point, I should say that I think we should ban moonlighting. However, I do not think that my constituents expect me to live in an unfurnished bedsit in the distant suburbs. My accommodation expenses amount to about £650 per month, and I am 10 minutes from the House of Commons; I think that pretty reasonable. My constituents do not expect me to carry a bed down on the Virgin Trains service every week because I do not have an additional costs allowance to buy a bed in London. Why does the end of the Opposition motion state that

My constituents do not expect me to sleep on the floor.

Mrs. May: I have already made the point—I will come to it again—about the importance of the John Lewis list to the House’s being seen to clean up its act.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): Will the right hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. May: No.

Reference is made to the John Lewis list by the Leader of the House in the Government amendment and in her written ministerial statement today. There is a real difference between abolishing the John Lewis list and replacing it with an Ikea list, and getting rid of the
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right to claim for TVs and fridges on the taxpayer. The hon. Gentleman mentioned beds, but not every hon. Member coming into the House has to rent or get a mortgage for an unfurnished flat; he knows that full well.

Miss Ann Widdecombe (Maidstone and The Weald) (Con): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mrs. May: Before I took that last intervention, I said that I wanted to make a little more progress. My right hon. Friend should bear with me; I am sure that she will be able to keep her question until later.

Mrs. Ann Cryer (Keighley) (Lab) rose—

Mrs. May: I say that to the hon. Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) as well.

The principles of our motion are based on transparency, and it includes a reference to “appropriate auditing”. As we discussed on 3 July, auditing is important because it is best practice outside this House, and we should show that we are willing to abide by that. Proposals in the MEC report would have brought this House into line with best practice not only in the private sector but elsewhere in the public sector. We need to achieve transparency by publishing a comprehensive breakdown of expenses claims made by Members to prove that we are using public money correctly. As from later this year, the House will publish Members’ expenses together with all the claims and receipts. We will continue with the commitment that we made to publish right-to-know forms on Conservative Members later today.

Mrs. Cryer rose—

Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Donohoe rose—

Mrs. May: If hon. Members will just wait— [ Interruption . ] I thank the Leader of the House for pointing out that several Members wish to intervene on me. I have already made it clear that I am willing to take further interventions later, but I wish to get beyond this point in my explanation of our motion because—who knows?—that might answer some of the questions that hon. Members have. I suspect that they were pre-arranged questions anyway, but there we are.

The need for transparency also lay behind our proposal that Members should declare on the register any family members whom they employ. That has now been agreed by this House following a review by the Standards and Privileges Committee. We are going further in relation to the right to know by publishing the salary bands of family members as well as their names. During the debate on 3 July, the expense involved was cited as a reason for not going further on the recommendations on auditing and publication. However, the House needs to operate by the same rules that operate elsewhere in the private and public sectors; that is why it is important that we explore this point.

Mrs. Cryer rose—

Linda Gilroy rose—

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Mr. Donohoe rose—

Miss Widdecombe rose—

Mrs. May: I am happy to give way to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) first, and then to the other three hon. Members. I will then go on to talk about the John Lewis list, so the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Mr. Donohoe) might wish to wait until I have done that before he makes his point.

Miss Widdecombe: I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way and for the number of times that she has already done so. She said a few sentences ago that it was not necessary for hon. Members to have a second home that needed to be furnished. Let me put it to her that if hon. Members buy their second homes, as opposed to renting or going into hotels with their families, the taxpayer gains because hon. Members have to pay the capital of their mortgage—that is not given to us by anybody—and in the end, when they sell, they pay the Exchequer capital gains tax. There is therefore a direct and much under-discussed benefit to the taxpayer in our choosing to buy rather than going into a hotel.

Mrs. May: To correct my right hon. Friend, I did not say that it was not necessary to have a second home, or, as she further implied, to furnish it at the expense of the taxpayer. [ Interruption . ] It is amazing that Labour Members do not seem to have heard of the concept of renting furnished flats, but I will not go into that. My right hon. Friend drew a distinction between the capital element and the interest element of a mortgage. The capital element relates to the fact that the house or flat remains in the ownership of the individual Member of Parliament. The point about furniture and household goods is that they remain in the ownership of the individual Member, who is able to take them on to a further property as opposed to simply possessing them as a Member of this House.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The right hon. Lady will recall that she agreed with my amendment, passed unanimously by the House last week, which removed the potential loophole whereby people could nominate two main homes, one under the additional costs allowance and one for capital gains tax purposes in relation to the Revenue. Can she confirm that that point has been taken fully into consideration in the statistics on her Front Benchers that she is providing today, that nobody among them has worked that loophole and that everything is consistent with the current House position?

Mrs. May: The figures that will be published today are based on the right-to-know form that was published earlier this year. I have a certain sympathy with the intention of the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but there are some practical issues involved in implementing it. [ Interruption . ] He says that there are not. He will be aware, however, that there are rules for claiming for a home under the ACA. HMRC has different rules, and there is a choice on whether a house is claimed as the main house for capital gains tax purposes. The House authorities will need to consider those issues in interpreting the amendment in terms of the rules that will be put into the green book. The House took a decision, and I have every confidence that it will be implemented.

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Linda Gilroy: Notwithstanding what the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe) said, will the list that is to be published this afternoon indicate the capital gain for Members who use all their allowance to purchase a property? The John Lewis list is a smokescreen for that.

Mrs. May: It is not possible to do that, because one is not able to list a capital gain until one sells the property and knows what the capital gain on it is.

Mrs. Cryer: The right hon. Lady’s comments are worth clarifying. Does she understand that new Members entering the House, particularly Labour Members with no inherited wealth whatsoever, may be put off buying a flat because they have no money to buy furniture for it, including basic things such as a bed, and may as a result be shoved into renting a furnished flat or a hotel room that will cost the taxpayer a great deal more money in the long term?

Mrs. May: I take considerable umbrage at the suggestion that everybody on my side came into the House with inherited wealth. There are Conservative Members who would also find it difficult to cope with the arrangements that we are putting in place. It will be difficult for some Members, but it is possible. Hon. Members have alternatives available to them—they do not need to go out and buy their TV on the back of the taxpayer.

Mr. Donohoe rose—

Mrs. May: I said that I would make progress and discuss the John Lewis list, because the hon. Gentleman has a specific question about it. Let me explain the reference in the motion. There has been public dismay about the concept of being able to buy a TV on the taxpayer—that is one of the issues that has most concerned people and about which they have been particularly vocal. I accept that most Members did not know of the John Lewis list before it was revealed in the court case, but it has become symbolic. Several hon. Members have made comments about initial requirements, but it is not just about that. The John Lewis list—that is, the ability to claim through the ACA money for furniture and household goods— continues throughout the time that a Member of Parliament is in this House, so it is not just a question of buying basic requirements from the allowance that is available. I believe that we should, as the MEC report suggested, remove the ability to buy furniture and household goods through the ACA. That is a different position from that taken in the Government’s amendment.

Mr. Donohoe: I became a Member of Parliament in 1992 and I was taken to the Fees Office, where I was instructed that I could spend money anyway I wanted on the additional costs allowance by a Mr. Maskell, who I think was in charge of the Fees Office then. I have never had any guidance since, other than the contents of the green book, which gives no indication of a John Lewis list. I sit on the Administration Committee and such a list has never been debated there. Where did the John Lewis list come from? I can give the right hon. Lady the answer, but I wonder whether she knows.

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