» Wednesday, May 27, 2009

MPs’ expenses/Parliamentary reform

Put that the Prime Minister had said in his article in the Independent that voters should have the chance to kick out corrupt politicians and what mechanism would he like to see used, the PMS replied that clearly there would have to be a debate about all of these issues in the weeks and months ahead. There would be a whole range of issues that would need to be looked at.

As the Prime Minister had also said in the article, he was open to any proposal in this general area. The Prime Minister had also said in his Financial Times article that while we pushed ahead with how we reformed politics, it was important that we did not lose sight of what politicians had been elected to do and that was to address the everyday concerns of those who had elected them. At the moment the main issue facing the country was the state of the economy and that was why the Prime Minister was also pushing forward proposals today in a European context on what more we could do to support the economy in this country and elsewhere.

Asked if the Prime Minister was happy that all the members of his Government’s tax affairs were in order, the PMS said that to the best our knowledge, Ministers did appear to have honoured their tax liabilities and would continue to do so. This was made clear in the statement put out by the various MPs who had been named in relation to this particular issue.

Asked whether the Prime Minister was happy that Ministers had claimed tax advice on their expenses, the PMS said that this was a question regarding what was an appropriate claim for constituency MPs and that was a matter for the MPs involved and the fees office. As Ministers, of course they had to pay tax that was due and it was our understanding that that was the case.

It was important that Ministers paid tax that was due on any benefit received in kind. These were claims that were made by individual MPs in their capacities as individual MPs and it was important that we reformed the system. We could go through a whole range of claims and debate the merits or otherwise of individual claims made by MPs right across the House. It was right that we had a proper process of examining all claims and assessing how reasonable they were, which is what the Prime Minister had been arguing for and what had now been agreed.

Asked if Ministers had acted in a uniform manner on this issue, the PMS said that to the best of our knowledge, Ministers appeared to have honoured all of their tax liabilities and would continue to do so as people would expect. Put that HMRC had said that the Ministers were wrong to have claimed tax advice, the PMS said that our understanding of the situation was that the legitimacy of the claim was a matter for the MPs and the fees office. There was a separate issue as to whether or not they should then pay tax on the claims as a benefit in kind. This was a matter of concern for HMRC and rightly so, but it was our understanding, based on the statement put out by Ministers last night, that they had honoured their tax liabilities. Asked about the other Ministers, the PMS said that he was being asked about Ministers who people were not able to name.

We were checking and making it clear to Ministers that should it be the case that any tax had not been paid then of course it would have to be paid. At the moment, no evidence had been put forward regarding Ministers who had not paid tax that was due.

Asked what he meant by checking, the PMS said that we were reminding Ministers to ensure that if they had received a benefit in kind, then tax should be paid on it. On the basis of information we had, the Ministers that received a benefit in kind had paid their tax. We would be speaking to particular Ministers if we needed to do so.

Asked why the legitimacy of the claims was not an issue for the Government, the PMS said that these were all claims that had been made by Ministers in their capacity as individual MPs. It was right that we didn’t look at this in an arbitrary way and we had a process to look at every receipt and every claim that had been made by every MP over the past four years. We thought it was right to do that in a cross-party way and in a way that covered the whole of the House of Commons. This was our mechanism to re-examine the claims of individual MPs. There was a separate issue for Ministers and if there was any tax due then of course they should pay that.

Asked if the non-payment of tax was subject to the Ministerial code, the PMS said we would expect Ministers to pay any tax that was due. Asked how many Ministers had claimed tax advice on MPs expenses, the PMS said that there was a statement put out last night by 12 MPs. In relation to those Ministers who had been identified, they had made clear that they had honoured all of their tax liabilities and would continue to do so. Asked if the Prime Minister got his tax returns done by an accountant, the PMS said that that was a question about the Prime Minister in his capacity as an MP, which he would have to refer to one of his political colleagues.

Asked what the Prime Minister’s view was on fixed term Parliaments, the PMS said that the Prime Minister’s view on all of these issues was that he was happy to have a debate about them. There were pros and cons to the argument as Jack Straw had been setting out yesterday.

Asked what the cons were to a fixed term Parliament, the PMS said that one of the arguments against was that we operated in a parliamentary system, not in a presidential system and the legitimacy of the Government came from being able to command a majority in Parliament. The Government was able to sustain itself as the Government as long as it had a majority in Parliament and if that was no longer the case and the Government lost a vote of no confidence then Parliament would have to be dissolved and an election would need to be called.

Asked if there was anything further on the inquiry into Shahid Malik’s expenses, the PMS said there were no further details at this point.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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