THIRD REPORT OF SESSION 2009-10 FROM THE
HOUSE COMMITTEE |
FINANCIAL SUPPORT FOR MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE:
DECLARATION OF PRINCIPAL RESIDENCE AND PUBLICATION
1. On 14 December 2009,
the House agreed to the principles and architecture of the recent
report by the Review
Body on Senior Salaries ("SSRB") on the financial support
available to Members of the House of Lords. In line with the House's
decision on 14 December, this Committee on 15 December appointed
an ad hoc group of Members ("the group"), chaired by
Lord Wakeham, "to
consider and consult on issues in the report and to advise on
2. It was envisaged in December that, in light
of the group's recommendations, the House Committee would make
a Report to the House setting out recommendations for a new scheme
of financial support, based on the principles and architecture
of the SSRB's report, and that the Leader of the House would then
table the necessary motions in the House for agreement before
the end of the current Parliament.
3. In the event, it has not yet been possible
for the group to finalise its report to the House Committee. In
view of the limited time available in the last weeks of the current
Parliament, this means that it will not now be possible to put
a comprehensive package of proposals to the House before the end
of the Parliament.
4. The Committee did however believe that we
should make progress, given the commitment to bring the new scheme
in at the beginning of the new Parliament. Therefore we propose
that the House should agree to the introduction, from the start
of the new Parliament, of new arrangements for the designation
and certification of principal residences outside London. This
will address a main weakness of the current scheme. In addition,
the Committee recommends that the House agree to new proposals
for quarterly publication of information relating to Members'
expenses from 1 April 2010. We believe that these two changes,
coupled with the new arrangements relating to the Code of Conduct,
and the appointment of an independent Commissioner for Standards,
will constitute a significant move forward for the House.
5. The House Committee will make a further Report,
early in the new Parliament, with further proposals for the new
system of financial support.
Defining and declaring principal
6. A main weakness of the current scheme has
been the inadequacy of the definition of what constitutes a Member's
principal residence outside London.
7. We invite the House to agree to the SSRB's
main recommendation on principal residence - that "all Members
seeking to claim financial assistance with overnight accommodation
within London sign a declaration stating the location of their
principal residence, and giving confirmation that it is outside
Greater London" (recommendation 11). The ad hoc group
have indicated that they agree with this important SSRB recommendation.
8. The required declaration should include
a statement of where Members spend most of their time when the
House is not sitting (including weekends), and in particular where
they spend most nights. Such a statement may also include
any other circumstances which the Member deems relevant to his
or her designation.
9. Members seeking to claim for overnight accommodation
in London must support the declarations on their principal residence
by providing the Finance Department with copies of documents from
an approved list to verify that their principal residence is outside
London. The declaration should be made on an annual basis, and
should be revised if the Member's circumstances change.
10. We also invite the House to agree that
all principal residence declarations should be made publicly available
on the Parliamentary website. Under the Freedom of Information
(Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008, details
of Members' addresses cannot be disclosed, but broader geographical
information, such as the town or county of principal residence
would be published subject to security advice in particular circumstances.
Such a change would be an important and necessary step forward
in transparency, combined with the new publication arrangements
set out in paragraphs 13 -18 below.
11. The SSRB recommended that "fees and
expenses paid to Members... should continue to be externally audited
by the National Audit Office" and that "the audit process
should also check Members' eligibility for financial assistance
with overnight accommodation" (recommendation 23). Again,
the group have indicated that they support this recommendation,
and that it should extend to auditing Members' declarations of
their principal residences, and to the supporting documentation
referred to in paragraph 7. Therefore in addition to the publication
of Members' declarations, we invite the House to agree that
the Accounting Officer should introduce a system of regular audit
checks of the declarations of principal residence, both internally
and by the National Audit Office.
12. If the House agrees to the Report, the Administration
will prepare standard declaration forms and communicate the new
arrangements to Members at an early stage.
13. Currently the House publishes annually the
totals claimed by each Member in each category of expenses, along
with the total number of sitting days attended. Some, but not
all, Members disclose the location of their principal residence
by county or region.
14. Under the present arrangements the annual
publication of information on expenses for 2009-10 is due to take
place this autumn. The timetable for publication is dictated in
large part by the fact that at present Members can submit expenses
claims "within three months of the expense arising".
Once the information has been processed by the Finance Department,
it is sent to Members to check. The three month claim period combined
with the process of checking by Members, means that publication
is necessarily delayed.
15. In the interests of greater transparency,
and in line with the recommendations of the SSRB report, we
recommend that the House agree to quarterly publication of information
relating to Members' expenses, in the first instance broken down
by the current categories of expenses. This proposal should
take effect from 1 April 2010, with the publication of the first
quarter of the financial year 2010-11 in the autumn of 2010. This
would be at the same time as the publication of the 2009-10 information.
16. We would propose that, for quarterly publication,
Members will be sent the material prior to its publication for
information purposes only.
17. If the House agrees to quarterly publication
from April 2010, there are two related administrative changes
which we believe will need to be made to achieve speedier publication.
We recommend that, from 1 April 2010:
Expenses claims must be submitted within one month
of the end of the month in which the expense arose;
The Finance Department will send the information
on expenses to Members prior to publication for information purposes
18. Moving to quarterly publication from 1 April
2010 would be a significant change, and would place information
in the public arena on a more frequent basis.
Summary of recommendations
19. We make the following recommendations
to the House:
- From the beginning of the new Parliament,
we invite the House to agree to the SSRB's main recommendation
on principal residence - that "all Members seeking to claim
financial assistance with overnight accommodation within London
sign a declaration stating the location of their principal residence,
and giving confirmation that it is outside Greater London".
- In addition, the required principal residence
declaration should include a statement of where Members spend
most of their time when the House is not sitting (including weekends),
and in particular where they spend most nights.
- Members seeking to claim for overnight
accommodation should supply the House of Lords Finance Department
with copies of documentation from an approved list to verify that
their principal residence is outside Greater London.
- All principal residence declarations
should be made publicly available on the Parliamentary website.
- The Accounting Officer should introduce
a system of regular audit checks of the declarations of principal
residence, both internally and by the National Audit Office.
- From 1 April 2010, the House should move
to quarterly publication for expenses claimed on or after April
2010, to coincide with the start of the new financial year.
- Expenses claims must be submitted within
one month of the end of the month in which the expense arose.
- The Finance Department will send the
information on expenses to Members prior to publication for information
1 HL Deb., 14 December 2009, cols. 1317-1384 Back
Review of Financial Support for Members of the House of Lords,
24 November 2009, Cm. 7746 Back
The other members of the ad hoc group are Baroness O'Cathain,
Baroness Scott of Needham Market, Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean,
Lord Tomlinson and Lord Williamson of Horton. Back
i.e. a claim for an expense incurred in April would have to be
submitted by the end of May. Back