Previous Section Index Home Page

feel appropriate. The hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) also asked about precisely what categories we have. We do not want to fix our mind for ever, and that is why we tabled the motion as we did.

The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton asked whether we would charge for information. I do not think that the House should charge, and we have no plans to do so, although in the end it will be up to the House authorities to make that decision. He referred to receipts going back to 2005. The motion relates to 2005—the year of the last general election—onwards because it seemed a bit odd to have a publication scheme for people who are no longer Members of this House. In fact, the House has information going back to 2004-05, so that is also part of the legal obligation on the House authorities.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Dr. Wright) referred to dark forces, as did the hon. Member for North-West Cambridgeshire. I thought that that was a slightly unfortunate phrase, because I honestly do not believe that there are dark forces in this House, merely differences of view about how we should progress on this issue. He cast a rather dark perspective on the debate, so I am not moving forward with him on that.

The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson)—to whom I was very rude in the Adjournment debate before Christmas, for which I do not apologise—asked when the process that the House authorities are
22 Jan 2009 : Column 966
going through will be completed. My right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said, rightly, that there is a hope and an expectation that we will be able to turn around within a month the business of when this is given to hon. Members and they can confirm it. I know that some hon. Members have had to go through a similar process for freedom of information requests, quite separately, and it has taken three months for the process to be agreed because of internal disputes.

Dan Norris (Wansdyke) (Lab): As one of the hon. Members who has been through that process, I confirm that it does take a long time—much longer than a month would allow. I hope that my hon. Friend will revisit that process. It is like a game of ping-pong. We give information to the people in question and they carry out the changes that we hope they are meant to carry out. Sometimes they miss them, and it is necessary to check the details again, and then we often see things that we did not notice at first, such as an address, or postcodes on receipts that companies include in the reference number. It is a complicated and time-consuming process.

Chris Bryant: I hear what my hon. Friend says. Obviously it is in everyone’s interest—that of all Members, and the public—that we do things as swiftly and accurately as possible, and I know that that is what the House wants.

Jo Swinson: I would just like a slight clarification. I appreciate that there is a degree of uncertainty about how long it will take Members to deal with the information. Do we have a rough idea of when Members will get that information so that they can start looking at it—what month they might receive it in, for example?

Chris Bryant: I do not have that information, I am afraid, and it is a matter for the House authorities. They are the data holders, and they have to progress the process.

My hon. Friends the Members for Broxtowe (Dr. Palmer) and for Hastings and Rye (Michael Jabez Foster) made strong speeches in favour of transparency, and everyone in the House shares their concern to ensure that we have an adequate level of transparency that meets the public need.

I now come to several matters relating to the new Committee. The membership of the Committee will be a matter for the political parties in the usual way, as is the case for all Committees of the House, and for the Committee of Selection. It is important that we acknowledge that there will be no Government majority on the Committee, which is why it has eight members, putting it virtually in parallel with the Committee on Standards and Privileges. It is important, as the Leader of the House said, that we do not bypass the Committee on Standards and Privileges. Nothing that we are saying today bypasses it, or obviates its role.

It is also important, as several hon. Members have said, that we have a robust audit. Everyone has said that the new system of audit we introduce will be substantially more robust than that of the past. It will be risk-based and it will ensure that wherever there is an element of risk, a proper audit is done so that the public can be assured of value for money. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of York—[Hon. Members: “City of York”]
22 Jan 2009 : Column 967
Sorry, my hon. Friend the Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley)—quite a different person. He dresses quite differently.

My hon. Friend made an important point, and I hope that hon. Members will bear with me on this, about the fundamental principles that underlie the claiming of all expenses. He read out only one of the fundamental principles in the new Green Book, but the others are important and should be referred to directly:

I believe that those are the principles to which the whole House must hold firm.

Hugh Bayley: Like other hon. Members, I subscribe to those principles, but I argued that if we published expenditure on fixtures, fittings and furnishings in aggregate, we would not have the openness that is required. It is stated that Members

Will my hon. Friend comment on the need in come cases to provide information that goes beyond the 26 specified categories?

Chris Bryant: I hope that my hon. Friend’s mind can be put at rest, because the House authorities will be publishing receipts going back to 2004, so the issue is firmly dealt with. He suggested that somebody might be claiming for a television costing £1,500, and that that claim might have been met by the House. I think that that is a red herring, because I do not think that the House would meet that claim under the old or new scheme, and quite rightly so.

Dr. Julian Lewis: In that area of debate, may I flag up a matter that I thought was extremely unfair to the right hon. Member for Derby, South (Margaret Beckett)? She put in a claim in relation to her accommodation for something to do with her garden. The claim was turned down, yet the information that she had tried to get it but been refused was released, much to the joy of the press, who proceeded to criticise her for having asked. Surely what should be revealed is the expenses that are granted. It should not be revealed if somebody asks whether they can claim for something, is told that it is not appropriate and says, “Fine, I will let it go.” That situation was most unfair to the right hon. Lady.

22 Jan 2009 : Column 968

Chris Bryant: That specific issue is a matter for the House authorities, both as the data holder and as the body that did not pay the original claim. However, the public expect us to provide a clear set of rules that mean that such things are not in doubt.

Several hon. Members have, in one way or another, asked whether we should be moaning about the situation in which we find ourselves. The hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) referred to how it often feels unfair to us that certain expenditure is referred to as our expenses, particularly given that the largest figure in our annual expenditure is staffing costs. Perhaps 50 years ago, when an MP might have visited their constituency twice a year, and the band played when they got there and played even louder when they left, they were able to survive without staffing. Today, the understandable expectation is that Members will be able to respond to letters, e-mails and every other form of inquiry very swiftly. I know that all hon. Members try to do that, and we would not be able to do it without our staffing expenditure.

I remember setting up my office when I was first elected in 2001. Buying desks for my staff was quite an expensive business, and at the end of the year I had to pay a very significant tax bill for that benefit, even though it did not particularly feel like a benefit to me. It felt like a benefit to my staff.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer) mentioned the fact that journalists might inadvertently, or perhaps advertently, tend to criticise the most diligent Members by attacking those who use their allowances to the full to provide a swift and effective service to their constituents. The hon. Member for Castle Point seemed to suggest that we should invert the list when considering Members’ effectiveness, and that the cheapest MPs are the least diligent. I do not know whether anybody would want to go that far, but nearly all MPs now seek to do a job that is entirely different from the one that was done 30 years ago. That is why it is important that we have a completely different structure of Members’ allowances and expenditure.

Every MP and every constituency is completely different, with different competing needs. In my constituency, very few housing-related issues arise because more than 80 per cent. of my constituents live in their own home, but many issues of miners’ compensation arise. Other MPs have a completely different pattern of issues coming to them.

I do not believe that we should moan about the situation that we find ourselves in. As several hon. Members said, it is a great privilege to sit in this House and represent our constituents. Nor, however, should we be ashamed about the expenditure that we wholly legitimately incur.

When I was elected, there was no transparency about Members’ expenditure. There was no audit and there were no rules, or minimal rules, and that was in 2001. Indeed, when I rang the Fees Office and asked what to do about my additional costs allowance, I was told to divide it in 12 and submit a form. I chose not to do that but to submit receipts. We have moved forward, and that is vital.

I believe that we are taking significant additional steps forward: through tougher rules on contracts to ensure that all employees are doing the job that they are meant to do, and on receipts to ensure that people are
22 Jan 2009 : Column 969
claiming what they are meant to claim, and through a robust independent audit, introducing the National Audit Office into the running of our finances for the first time and enabling it to do a full-scale audit. We are also providing for far greater transparency through the publication scheme and what the House authorities will do in future.

Again, I welcome the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton to his new post. We have already heard about the man to man chats between the Home Secretary and the Leader of the House.

Sir Michael Spicer: Will the Deputy Leader of the House answer the question about appeals?

Chris Bryant: I am sorry, I forgot to mention that. As the chairman of the 1922 committee said, the Green Book states, as the Members Estimate Committee agreed, that appeals should go to the Finance and Services Committee. There is a slight element of uncertainty because the Members Estimate Committee relates to theI look forward to many man to man chats, and I hope that all hon. Members will support the package of motions that we are considering.

Question put and agreed to.


(1) That, subject to the provisions of paragraph (2) below, for the purpose of the publication scheme adopted and maintained by the House under section 19 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, such information about payments made to, or on behalf of, hon. Members which is already published routinely in accordance with the scheme shall continue to be published;

(a) Administrative and Office Expenditure:

(i) accommodation costs for offices, surgeries, etc;

(ii) office equipment and supplies;

(iii) telephones and other telecommunications;

(iv) professional fees and charges;

(v) agency and other staff costs;

(vi) travel costs;

(vii) utilities;

(b) Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure:

(i) mortgage interest;

(ii) rent;

(iii) hotel costs;

(iv) council tax;

(v) fixtures, fittings and furnishings;

(vi) subsistence;

(vii) other household costs, including service charges, utilities, telecommunications, maintenance and repairs;

(c) Communications Expenditure:

(i) websites;

(ii) reports and surveys;

(iii) delivery charges, postage and stationery;

(iv) advertising;

(v) equipment;

(d) Staffing Expenditure;

(e) Travel Expenditure in relation to travel by Members:

(i) car, including third party vehicle rental and mileage;

(ii) rail;

(iii) air;

22 Jan 2009 : Column 970

(iv) other UK and European travel;

(f) Resettlement Grant;

(g) Winding-up Expenditure;

(3) The Committee on Members’ Allowances shall keep the categories listed in paragraph (2) above under review and may modify them from time to time as the committee may think necessary or desirable in the interests of clarity, consistency, accountability and effective administration, and conformity with current circumstances.

Members’ allowances (green book)


Members’ Allowances (audit and Assurance)


Committee on Members’ Allowances


(1) There shall be a select committee, called the Committee on Members’ Allowances,

(a) to advise the House of Commons Members Estimate Committee on the discharge of its functions; and

(b) to advise the Speaker, the Members Estimate Committee and the Leader of the House on the potential development of the arrangements made by or under the Resolutions in force from time to time regarding Members’ allowances &c;

(2) The committee shall consist of eight members;

(3) Unless the House otherwise orders, each Member nominated to the committee shall continue to be a member of it for the remainder of the Parliament;

(4) The committee shall have power to send for persons, papers and records, to sit notwithstanding any adjournment of the House, to appoint specialist advisers and to report from time to time.

In Standing Order No. 152D, leave out lines 23 to 25;

22 Jan 2009 : Column 971

Ministerial Answers to Parliamentary Questions

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn— (Chris Mole.)

Next Section Index Home Page