Select Committee on Members Estimate Committee Second Report



RULES AND ADVICE

53. For any system there are issues about how the rules are applied to allowances as well as the overall structure of the allowances. These include:

  • how clear are the rules?
  • are they mandatory or advisory?
  • how can consistency and fairness be achieved?
  • who is responsible for making sure that the rules are followed?

A simpler set of rules may be desirable, but they may not meet every circumstance. How desirable is flexibility and consistency? Or is some rough justice and inequity acceptable in the cause of maintaining simplicity? Is there any arrangement which is entirely fair between those representing London constituencies and those elsewhere?

How should the House help Members to ensure that their claims are above reproach? Could the existing advisory service within the Department of Resources be developed further? To whom should Members have access—beyond the officials immediately responsible—to consult about whether their arrangements are acceptable? Before issues of propriety arise, should Members undertake a regular and confidential health check on their parliamentary finances—perhaps with the help of House staff, disinterested colleagues or an independent expert? In minor cases of lapse, should there be a process for resolving the problem short of complaint to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards?

This leads to some fundamental questions about how Members' expenses are administered by the staff of the House. Would it give greater assurance if the system of Members' expenses was administered by an outside body or had more in the way of external scrutiny? If so, how might this work and what would be the costs and benefits?

Should House officials be given greater authority to scrutinise Members' use of allowances, rather than just vetting claims as now?


 
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Prepared 2 April 2008