49. The Committee has already announced a reduction
from £250 to £25 of the threshold for claims to be accompanied
by receipts and in petty cash to £50. In paragraph 26 above
we refer to the issue of food, for which unreceipted claims of
up to £400 have been permissible. The Committee is very
conscious that the new low threshold for claims needs to be under-pinned
by a more robust regime for audit. The House will need not just
a new control regime over claims, but also management controls
and compliance work, with both supported by proper audit assurance.
Members from all sides of the House have told us that the current
arrangements are well below the standards they were accustomed
to in previous jobs outside the House.
50. On audit arrangements, the SSRB said "we
believe it would help to increase public confidence in the system
of reimbursing MPs' expenditure if MPs were to agree that each
year a small sample of MPs, perhaps 5-10 per cent, were to have
their expenditure claims audited by the National Audit Office."
51. At present the NAO, as part of its annual audit
of the House, examines the payments by the Department of Resources
against specific allowances. It selects a sample number of claims
handled by House staff and checks that the claims conform to the
rules in the Green Book. Neither the NAO not the House staff
go behind the Members' signature or examine papers in their offices.
This is because, as set out in the statement on the system of
internal control by the Accounting Officer in the annual Members
Resource Accounts, the financial control framework is based on
the principle that Members are primarily responsible for identifying,
claiming and certifying their own expenditure. We have been told
that there are some difficulties with external auditorsas
the body which ultimately gives its opinion on the House's accountsactually
conducting detailed audit in individual cases. We are seeking
their views on this matter.
52. Some Members have suggested to us that they would
welcome examination by an outside body, Revenue & Customs
or professional accountants of their claims against allowances.
We have arranged meetings with the National Audit Office, HM
Revenue & Customs, private firms of accountants and the Audit
Commission to look at options for a better system of assurance.
In particular we want to know how best practice elsewhere could
be applied to the House. In the paper on emerging conclusions
we have promised for May, we intend to set out how some alternative
audit arrangements would work in practice.
Is there a better model for providing assurance
that public money for Members' expenses spent on goods and services
has been used for proper purposes? In the same way that the tax
affairs of individual Members are from time to time examined by
HMRC, should a similar process be carried out by an external body?
If small businesses have to have their accounts professionally
audited and their accounts registered at Companies House, could
a similar system be devised for MPs?
What are the essentials of a new regime which
will provide transparency and inspire public confidence?
23 para 5.5. Back