Select Committee on Members Estimate Committee Second Report



ASSURANCE

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."[23]

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 auditors—as the body which ultimately gives its opinion on the House's accounts—actually 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


 
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