Previous Section Index Home Page

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): There is one glaring omission from the motions on the Order Paper. It relates to a measure that I think would command support from all parts of the House: the Prime Minister’s suggestion that those who have grace and favour accommodation, paid for by the state, should not be able to claim the additional costs allowance. Will the
30 Apr 2009 : Column 1066
right hon. and learned Lady explain why that is not on the Order Paper? If her intention is that the issue should be dealt with by the ministerial code of conduct, I say to her that that is not sufficient, because it does not allow for complaints from members of the public to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards and the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Ms Harman: I think that I had better get on with my speech, because I have answers to the questions asked so far further down in my speech. I ask for Members’ forbearance, so that I can get on and make my argument.

Mr. David Clelland (Tyne Bridge) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Ms Harman: I will give way one more time, but then I must get on.

Mr. Clelland: Before we move off the point about giving guidance to the Kelly committee—that, I take it, is what the first motion does—there seems to be a contradiction in the first motion. Paragraph (2) recognises that Members of Parliament

Indeed they also undertake such duties outside Westminster and their constituency, which is not mentioned. The motion goes on to say that

Why is that?

Ms Harman: I ask my hon. Friend to bear with me. I will answer his question as I get on with my speech. The first motion invites the House to express the opinion that new arrangements should take account of attendance at Westminster, be transparent and accountable, and reduce the cost to the public. The amendment in the name of the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), welcomes the inquiry but deletes that opinion, invites the Kelly committee to get on with its work, and asks that we consider the recommendations as soon as they have been made. In the consultation paper that Sir Christopher Kelly recently issued, “Review of MPs’ Expenses—Issues and Questions”, he said that he will indeed consider whether the payment of allowances should be linked to attendance and a flat-rate daily payment. In that consultation paper, the Committee on Standards in Public Life says, on the issue of a flat-rate allowance:

Sir Christopher Kelly also says that he will look at how we ensure best value for the taxpayer. In the light of that, it does not seem necessary for me to divide the House on the amendment, and I am minded to accept it. The important thing is that we endorse the Kelly inquiry, that it presses on with its work, and that we take the further steps in the other resolutions, to which I now turn.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): I want to understand what the right hon. and learned Lady just said. The first amendment—
30 Apr 2009 : Column 1067
amendment (j), which is in the name of the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee—in effect postpones consideration of the motions until after the report of Sir Christopher Kelly, and rightly so. Does she accept that if the amendment is carried, the question should not be put on any of the other motions, because all the matters in the other motions are covered by the remit of Sir Christopher Kelly?

Ms Harman: Let me just clarify to the House: we propose to accept, and not put to the vote, the amendment in the name of the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee, because it endorses the Kelly inquiry, and I think that it is important for the House to endorse that inquiry. The three issues raised in the rest of the motion, which is deleted by the Chair of the Select Committee’s amendment, are about linking allowances to attendance, transparency and value for money for the public. Christopher Kelly has already said, in his consultation paper, that he will take those issues forward in his inquiry. That being the case, and as the motion was only an opinion, I do not think that it is necessary to put the amendment to the vote. We will accept the amendment. The first motion will therefore be important, because it means the whole House, I hope, endorsing the Kelly inquiry. I do not agree with the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg); there are actions that we can and should take now. We have further motions on the Order Paper today, with which I would like to press forward.

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con): We seem to be treading rapidly into the realms of complete and utter lunacy. If the right hon. and learned Lady wishes, very sensibly, to accept the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young) and his colleagues on the Standards and Privileges Committee—it seems to be the view of the House that it should be accepted—it will be binding on the House; it will be part of a resolution. In that case, logically, everything else would fall, and we would leave everything to that Committee.

Ms Harman: As I argue for each of the motions in turn, I intend to explain to the House why I think that it can and should take action on each motion now.

Several hon. Members rose

Ms Harman: I ask hon. Members to bear with me and listen to my argument. Of course they can decide—

Sir Patrick Cormack: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It seems that this is—

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): A car crash.

Sir Patrick Cormack —not a car crash, but a point for Mr. Speaker. We have just heard that the Leader of the House is to recommend that the House, without a vote, endorse an amendment that says that Sir Christopher Kelly’s report should be waited for. She went on to say that the House should, in effect, pre-empt Sir Christopher’s decisions in a number of particulars. Surely that is inconsistent, and surely all the other motions are predicated on the amendment that is to be carried.

30 Apr 2009 : Column 1068

Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I do not regard motions 2 to 6 as directly contingent on motion 1, or in direct contradiction to it. [Interruption.] Order. Let me speak. As a result, motions 2 to 6 can be moved if the Government so wish. The motions are a separate series of propositions on which the House can decide. If the motions are moved, that is what will happen.

Sir Alan Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed) (LD): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. In the light of the clarification in your ruling, it would be open to the House, having agreed to amendment (j), to realise that it could give effect to an equivalent amendment for all the other motions by simply defeating the remaining motions, would it not?

Mr. Speaker: That is correct.

Ms Harman: Of course there would be—

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady give way?

Ms Harman: Let me just press on with my argument, if I may. [Hon. Members: Give way.] All right; I give way to the Chair of the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Sir George Young: I am grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady for giving way, and for agreeing to accept my amendment before I even made my speech on it. However, from what she says, it sounds as though it is a pyrrhic victory, because even if the amendment is to be carried, she invites the House to make conclusions. My Committee could not have been clearer: we wanted the House to defer its conclusions until after Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee reported. We tabled exactly the same amendments to all the other motions, so that there could be no doubt whatever about our intentions. I have to say that it sounds somewhat inconsistent to accept the amendment and then plough on as if it had not been accepted.

Ms Harman: The right hon. Gentleman’s Committee has tabled amendments saying that we should not go ahead now to deal with the question of outer-London Members’ eligibility for the additional costs allowance—to take action now on them. [Hon. Members: “No!”] Look, let me just get on with my argument— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Leader of the House speak. She has said that she has accepted an amendment from the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young). Usually, people are pleased when the Government accept an amendment. It seems that there is a displeasure in some quarters, but I have made the ruling and what I have had to say is quite clear. Let the right hon. and learned Lady speak, because she is not the only one who wants to speak today.

Ms Harman: Other Members will have an opportunity to speak, and all Members will have an opportunity to vote; I just want to have an opportunity to set out why I argue that we should press on with the action that is identified in the other motions.

30 Apr 2009 : Column 1069

The next motion, motion 2, would mean that from April next year there would be no distinction between Members from inner and outer London. All Members representing constituencies within 20 miles of Westminster would be treated as London MPs. The 20-mile limit is drawn from the Green Book. Whatever the Kelly report recommends on the additional costs allowance, I think, and I invite the House to decide now, that the distinction between inner and outer-London Members is no longer sustainable. Whatever the Kelly committee’s proposal is to deal with the extra costs of constituencies outside London, and the proposal will then be debated in the House, we ought to decide now that all London MPs—inner and outer-London MPs—should be treated the same. In that case—

Several hon. Members rose

Ms Harman: I shall not give way any more. Members might— [ Interruption. ] No. Members will have an opportunity to disagree with my argument in their own speeches, but I ask them at least to give me the opportunity to set out why I think that we should take that action now.

In that case, I think—

Alan Duncan: Will the right hon. and learned Lady allow just one intervention?

Ms Harman: The hon. Gentleman has already intervened once.

Alan Duncan: Will the right hon. and learned Lady give way?

Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): Will the right hon. and learned Lady give way?

Ms Harman: I shall give way.

Mr. Speaker: Order. Is the right hon. and learned Lady giving way to the shadow Leader of the House?

Ms Harman: Yes.

Alan Duncan: I am very grateful to the right hon. and learned Lady, because I know that she is under a lot of pressure from all parts of the House. On the logic of her position, however, the first motion talks about Members’ allowances in general, refers to

and is, therefore, a complete, all-embracing point about allowances in general. So if the reference to allowances in general is referred to Sir Christopher Kelly’s committee, surely it is only logical and honest to say that the other motions should be dropped.

Ms Harman: As I have said, whatever the Kelly report recommends on the additional costs allowance, we should decide now that the distinction between inner and outer-London Members is no longer sustainable. The House will have a chance to vote on that, and, in that case, I think it only fair that our outer-London colleagues know that they will be put on the same footing as us in inner London, so that they have time—until
30 Apr 2009 : Column 1070
April next year—to make changes to their arrangements if they need to. So we should get on and make that decision.

There is also an issue in respect of the accommodation allowance for those Ministers—currently the Prime Minister and the Chancellor—who use London grace and favour accommodation.

Mr. Ian Taylor: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker: Order. I notice that the hon. Gentleman—please have a seat while I am standing—wanted to intervene and has now gone from seeking an intervention to seeking a point of order. I hope that it is a proper point of order.

Mr. Taylor: Mr. Speaker, is it in order that the Leader of the House goes through an explanation without giving way to somebody who is personally affected by the measures? An explanation between us might well clarify the situation.

Mr. Speaker: It is a debate, and the hon. Gentleman can always seek to catch my eye and put his particular case to rebut what the Leader of the House has had to say.

Ms Harman: I was dealing with the question of grace and favour accommodation. The Prime Minister has already decided that no Minister using grace and favour accommodation in London will be able to claim the accommodation allowance. That will be done by amending the ministerial code and will be effective from 1 July. There are mechanisms for complaints about a breach of the ministerial code, so such complaints would not be on the same track as other complaints about allowances.

The third motion would, by requiring Members to declare all their earnings from outside employment, enable the Kelly review to make its proposals about outside employment with full knowledge of its extent. I believe that the motion is necessary to assist the Kelly committee. An amendment proposes that there would be no need to register the amount of time a Member spends earning money on outside interests, but I think that, if the public elect a Member, they have a right to know how much time that Member devotes to making money rather than to representing their constituents. So I am not minded to accept the amendment.

The motion would help Sir Christopher to make decisions about outside interests in the full knowledge of their extent; otherwise, he would be asked to make decisions without fully knowing about outside interests because they would not be fully registered. If the House agrees with the motion, however, everything will be out in the open and he will be able to make recommendations, having been put fully in the picture.

The fourth motion is about our staff. The reality is that the staff allowance is nothing to do with our salary; it is to pay our staff. Yet because it is accounted for as part of our allowance, the public see it as part of our pay, which it is not.

Several hon. Members rose

Ms Harman: I shall give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn).

30 Apr 2009 : Column 1071

Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley) (Lab/Co-op): I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for giving way. I am extremely concerned about that issue, because a range of employment legislation refers to the relationship between an employee and an employer. It would be much better if the matter were fully investigated before the House expressed an opinion; otherwise, we may end up saying that a Member’s staff should be employed by somebody completely different—without our being fully aware of the situation’s implication either for those staff or, indeed, for the Member.

Ms Harman: Many points of detail need to be addressed, and that is why motion 4(2) states:

Next Section Index Home Page