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The Prime Minister:
We do want to recognise the commitment of our armed forces. Special arrangements are made in a number of different parts of our society. This is an interesting proposal that has been made on an all-party basis, and I am sure that the Serjeant at
Arms and the Speaker will want to look at it. It seems to be something that we can support, but we will have to have consultations with all the different forces in the House.
Q12.  Willie Rennie (Dunfermline and West Fife) (LD): Does the Prime Minister remember promising that Rosyth would not become a nuclear graveyard? Fifteen years later, not only are seven nuclear submarines still rotting in the dockyard, but the Prime Minister is considering the dockyard as a permanent location for those submarines. When will he live up to his promise?
The Prime Minister: No decision has been taken on this. I have to remind the hon. Gentleman that Rosyth dockyard is working as a result of the actions that we have taken. The aircraft carriers are coming to Rosyth to be built as a result of a decision that we have made. If other parties had been in power, there would be no Rosyth dockyard at all. We have taken the action that is necessary.
Q13.  Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): With quality child care being essential both to allow parents to work and for child development, and given the huge investment that the Government have made in the national child care strategy over the years, can my right hon. Friend help me to understand why some local councils, such as Kensington and Chelsea, are proposing to close their nursery schools? What can we do to block this retrograde step?
The Prime Minister: I hesitate to use the words "iron-cast guarantee", but we have provided- [ Interruption. ] The words have become so devalued over the past few days. People will not forget that on Monday the Leader of the Opposition also made an iron-cast guarantee to the national health service; people will remember that as well. On nursery education, we are determined to ensure that three and four-year-olds have the best nursery education possible. We have increased the number of hours for nursery school, and we will continue to make sure that Sure Start provision is available in every constituency.
Q14.  Paul Rowen (Rochdale) (LD):
The Prime Minister promised in June that there would be a
statement on the restoration of compensation for victims of pleural plaques. It is now November, so can he tell us why we have not yet received it?
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister still have full confidence that the Afghan army and police will be prepared to lay down their own lives, and to slaughter those of their brother Afghans, in the service of foreign powers and in the service of a President who is corrupt and who has just rigged his own re-election?
The Prime Minister: The members of the Afghan army want a safe and secure Afghanistan, as do most of the people in Afghanistan. The members of the Afghan army who have been working with the British Army on Operation Panther's Claw are members who were sent by President Karzai in increasing numbers to back up the work of the British forces. We want to work with the Afghan army and security service. We want to train them and mentor them, and I have heard our chiefs talking about the quality, in the main, of Afghan army members, which is something that we want to continue to increase and strengthen over the months to come.
Mr. Ian Taylor (Esher and Walton) (Con): As a former Science Minister myself, I am well aware that scientific advice can be politically inconvenient, but will the Prime Minister reassure the scientific community that when disagreements happen, he will engage in rational debate rather than shoot the messenger?
The Prime Minister: Scientific advice is valued by the Government in every area. On climate change, on foot and mouth, on dealing with swine flu and on nuclear matters as well as on drugs, we have very good scientists who have been advising us. From the drugs advisory committee, we accepted all but three of more than 30 recommendations. The issue was not the ability of the committee to give advice or the expertise of the members, it was that once Ministers have had to decide a position, after listening to advice on a wider range of social issues than simply the scientific advice, it does not make sense to send out mixed messages to the whole community about drugs. That is why the Home Secretary made his decision.
Under the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, it falls to me as Speaker to select a candidate for the chair of IPSA. The Act stipulates that the candidate must be recruited on merit on the basis of fair and open competition, and that the choice must be agreed by the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliament Standards Authority established under the Act.
Following an open competition carried out by an independent panel, I can today inform the House that I have selected, and the Committee has approved, Professor Sir Ian Kennedy as chair-designate of IPSA. His appointment must be confirmed by the House of Commons before he is formally appointed by the Queen. He will be paid a maximum of £100,000 a year. [Interruption.] Order. We are fortunate- [Interruption.] Order. We are fortunate to have such an eminent candidate for this important post. Sir Ian was chairman of the Healthcare Commission from its creation until 2009, and he is well known as the chairman of the public inquiry into paediatric cardiac surgery at Bristol Royal infirmary. He originally qualified as a lawyer, and he has a long and distinguished record of chairing and being a member of public bodies.
IPSA is charged with establishing a new and wholly independent system governing MPs' allowances that can command the confidence of the public and of this House, and I am confident that Sir Ian will bring significant leadership skills to that task.
Today the Committee on Standards in Public Life, under its chair Sir Christopher Kelly, has published its report setting out recommendations for a new framework for parliamentary allowances. People in this country need to be able to have full trust and confidence in their Parliament. What happened under the old allowance system has knocked that confidence.
We come into Parliament not to serve our own self-interest but to serve the public interest, but that is not the impression that the public have. We have all acknowledged that and have recognised that to ensure that we have a system in which everyone can have confidence, we need to take action. We have already made changes and the Kelly report is another important step on that path to restoring public confidence.
Before I turn to the Kelly report, I would like to remind the House of the action that we have already taken. To deal with the past, we are ensuring that any overpayments, including those which were simply a mistake, are paid back. That is the work that the Members Estimate Committee, which is chaired by you, Mr. Speaker, commissioned from Sir Thomas Legg. We have already taken action to change the current allowance system. In order to allow for the period while wholesale reform of our allowances is being considered, we introduced interim measures last May to pare back allowances as a result of a meeting of the party leaders and the Members Estimate Committee.
Amid the enormous attention paid to past problems, no one should overlook the fact that we have already decided to cap the monthly amount that can be claimed on mortgage or rent; to prevent a Member from changing the designation of their main or second home; to abolish the second home allowance for outer-London Members; and to stop claims for furniture, stop claims for cleaning and stop claims for gardening. Parliament has not sat back waiting for Kelly. The current allowance system is already very different from the one which allowed for the claims that have angered both the public and the House.
We have also recognised that for the future, it is no longer appropriate for us to set or administer our own allowance system. That is why in July we passed the Parliamentary Standards Act 2009, which sets up the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which will decide on our allowances and run the system, so just as we no longer vote on our own pay increases, we will not play a part in deciding or administering our allowances.
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister in March asked Sir Christopher Kelly, the chair of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to review the system of MPs allowances. I would like to thank Sir Christopher and his committee for the important work they have undertaken, and also to thank all those, including many hon. Members, who gave evidence to his committee. His report was published only this morning, but it is obviously right for the House to hear an early statement and to have the chance to air initial views.
MPs representing constituencies outside London need to be able to live in both their constituency and in Westminster because they need to work in both places. We do not want a Parliament where the only people who can come to Westminster as MPs are those who are wealthy enough to afford to pay for second homes out of their own pocket. Nor do we want to undermine the importance of MPs working in two places-the constituency and Westminster. Both are important. Nor do we want to have a situation where you cannot have your family with you if you are an MP. The Kelly report recognises that the allowances are there so that Parliament works properly on behalf of people in this country; the constituency link is sustained; Parliament is not barred to people on modest incomes; and so that Parliament is not barred to people with a young family. The Kelly report acknowledges this.
The Kelly report covers 138 pages and puts forward 60 recommendations. Among the key recommendations are two that I would like to draw to the attention of the House. First, on the recommendation that Members should not be able to claim for mortgage interest but only for rent or hotels, the committee recommends that those with existing mortgages should be able to continue to claim for one further Parliament. It recommends that Members should not be reimbursed for the employment of family members. Those who currently employ family members will be able to continue to do so for one further Parliament.
Turning to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, the acting chief executive, Andrew MacDonald, has been appointed and has begun work, and you, Mr. Speaker, have just announced that Professor Sir Ian Kennedy has been selected as the new chair-designate of IPSA. I will put the motion to confirm his appointment to the House in the next few days. The other members of the authority will be appointed shortly.
The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority has already started the work of setting up the new allowance regime for MPs. A new allowance regime will be in place to come into effect in the new Parliament, as recommended by Sir Christopher Kelly. In the light of this, the Government welcome and fully accept the Kelly report, which should be taken as a whole. It will be for IPSA to take it forward. This is the approach Kelly's report itself recommends.
Until such time as IPSA takes the Kelly report forward, we will retain the current restricted allowance rules and every claim will of course be published and available for the public to see. Because we decided in July that in future we would play no part in deciding our allowance system and that it would be done independently, it does not make sense for us now to vote on the future shape of our allowance system. Instead that is the job of IPSA. After all, that is what we set it up to do. The Parliamentary Standards Act lays down that IPSA must consult MPs and others when drawing up the allowances regime. IPSA will set to work immediately and we expect, following such consultations, it to proceed as quickly as possible to put into effect the Kelly recommendations on allowances.
The events that lie behind the recommendations in the Kelly report have caused anger and dismay both in the public and among hon. Members. Our responsibility
is to continue to take the action needed to sort the situation out and to make the changes that are necessary. The payback system is under way. The new restrictive allowance system will remain in place. Sir Christopher Kelly has recommended a new framework for our allowances, and IPSA is up and running and will set up the new allowance system and administer it. Sir Christopher Kelly's report is another important step on the road to the public knowing that the allowance system has been put on to a proper independent footing and that we are getting on with our important task of serving our constituents and this country.
This House of Commons has yet to fully resolve this damaging episode. But with clear acknowledgement of the public anger, with the firm action already taken, with the Kelly report and the establishment of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, this will be resolved. I commend this statement to the House.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and may I take this opportunity to deplore the way in which Sir Christopher's report was selectively leaked last week?
This report was commissioned because neither the House nor the Senior Salaries Review Body was able to come up with a sustainable solution to the vexed question of our allowances. On behalf of my party, I wish to thank Sir Christopher and his colleagues for producing a thorough report, whose conclusions we shall accept in full and take forward.
My brief questions fall into two parts-first on the process for implementing reform and, secondly, on the substance of some of the recommendations. On process, does the Leader of the House agree that now that the report has been published, our priority should be to ensure that these reforms are implemented as quickly as possible? Is not the position now very different to that when Sir Christopher began his review? Then he was going to produce the definitive response on which we would vote, and possibly resolve this by Christmas. But since June, as the Leader of the House said, the Parliamentary Standards Act has been put on the statute book, giving IPSA and not Kelly the final say on our allowances. So today's report is not the end of the process-that rests with IPSA, which is not yet constituted. Does she agree that it is important, therefore, that the consultation on Sir Christopher's report and the consultation that IPSA is obliged to carry out should happen at the same time? Does that not mean that IPSA should be up and running as soon as possible, taking Kelly as its text, and if we move quickly, might IPSA come to its conclusions on the Kelly report by February? Under that scenario, can she confirm that the interim arrangements might run until the new IPSA regime kicks in, possibly at the beginning of the next Parliament? Related to that, does she recognise that the continued uncertainty of the timetable for establishing IPSA is causing anxiety for many staff at the Department of Resources, who have to keep the show on the road without knowing their future? Finally, on process, does the Leader of the House recognise that some of the recommendations will require primary legislation, and when does she plan to introduce that?
Turning to the substance of the recommendations, I declare an interest in the employment of relatives. I believe that there is insufficient appreciation of the
demanding jobs that all staff do, often at antisocial hours, and many colleagues on both sides of the House, and indeed their constituents, will attest to the invaluable service that family members can, and do, provide, as was confirmed by Sir Christopher this morning. However, does the right hon. and learned Lady accept, as I do, that in a modern Parliament the current arrangements no longer carry public confidence? Does she agree that we need to accept Sir Christopher's recommendations while considering closely his proposed transitional period to ensure that the House does not fall foul of employment law?
On communications, we welcome Sir Christopher's endorsement of our proposal to scrap the communications allowance, and I welcome what he said on MPs who retain outside interests. I also welcome the recommendation to enable IPSA to look at pay, pensions and allowances, enabling the full spectrum of MPs' remuneration to be considered in the round. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it was the fragmented approach of the past that is partly to blame for the mess that we are in today?
On accommodation, again we support Sir Christopher's recommendations. The public have lost confidence in the current regime, and it has to change. As Sir Christopher says, IPSA will need to look closely at the proposals in the report. There are legitimate concerns with aspects of it, particularly the rules surrounding those who are expected to get back to their constituencies at night. Does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that Sir Christopher's proposals on rent will need to be monitored by IPSA to ensure that the overall package is not more expensive than it is now? Does his package meet the Prime Minister's test on reducing the cost to the taxpayer?
Finally, the issue before us has dogged the House for the past 12 months. The public are waiting for action. Sir Christopher provides the basis for an enduring settlement that is fair to the taxpayer and Members of the House-existing and potential-who need the resources to do the job properly without relying on private means. Is it not now paramount that we make urgent progress in what remains of this Parliament, so that we can return to our core tasks of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and fighting for our constituents, and so that we can bequeath to our successors in the next Parliament the opportunity of a fresh start?
The right hon. Gentleman raised the point about getting on as quickly as possible with the implementation of the Kelly report, and he is right of course that when Sir Christopher Kelly started his work, the idea was that he would produce a report and that it would come back to the House to be implemented. After he started his work, we decided to set up IPSA, to which his report will now go for implementation. I confirm to the House that IPSA is already up and running. We expect it, of course, to take Kelly as its text, and the current interim regime of allowances will continue and subsist until such time as the whole regime is taken over by IPSA.
On the question about proposals for changes in the legislation on the structure of IPSA, obviously if a new Act of Parliament is brought forward and a new authority
set up, it would start its work and Parliament can keep the legislative framework under review. However, I do not think that we should be addressing the question of legislating to change the IPSA structure. The important thing is for it to be getting on with its work.
The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the important thing is not to take the proposals piecemeal and for the House not to pick out any one proposal, but that we should simply send the whole package to IPSA. However, he commented on the employment of relatives and accommodation. It is right to recognise, as Sir Christopher Kelly did, that a great deal of hard work is done by the spouses employed by Members of Parliament, which is much valued by constituents. Sir Christopher's proposal for a change in the system should absolutely not cause a cloud to hang over the heads of those who have done, and continue to do, good work in the public interest, and of course IPSA will not want to fall foul of employment law.
On accommodation, it is of course right that IPSA will need to look at the detailed implementation issues that will arise in moving from mortgages to rents or hotels. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we will need to look at how IPSA gets it right. It will of course need to keep an eye on cost, and cost will depend on implementation.
Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): Sir Christopher Kelly deserves our congratulations and thanks. The report is comprehensive and thorough. There will of course be issues of detailed implementation, but does the Leader of the House agree that we would not expect IPSA to disregard any part of what Sir Christopher calls
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