» Monday, October 12, 2009

MPs’ expenses

Asked whether the Prime Minister thought that any members of his Cabinet or party should be writing out cheques to repay their expenses, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that on questions relating to the party, people should address them to his political colleagues.

Our general position had been set out by Harriet Harman. There was a meeting later today of the Committee on Members Allowances (CMA) and that meeting had been in the diary for about a week. We were putting a number of proposals to that committee; the first of these was that the CMA should make urgent proposals for a review process including an external element, so that there was some independent assessment of this to identify where mistakes had been made in the payment of MPs allowances and to establish a repayment mechanism.

We would also ask the CMA to draw up guidance on the question of consistency and nomination for first and second homes with the rules on council tax, capital gains tax and other relevant taxes and we were also calling on the committee to make changes to the green book, with a moratorium on second home allowances with respect to the payment of furnishings, fixtures and fittings and a cap on mortgage interest claims.

Put that the Government had dismissed a cap on mortgage interest claims a few weeks ago, the PMS said that we had always been in favour of a cap on mortgage interest payments. A cap on mortgage interest payments would be part of an interim measure and we welcomed the fact that we were moving towards a consensus on this. We had always wanted to act on this as a matter of urgency and we tried to seek agreement on this several weeks ago but that had not been possible.

The Leader of the House had been talking to her opposite numbers and there would be a meeting of the relevant committee later today. We were proposing a package of measures, which also looked at repayment mechanisms, alignment of taxes as well as reforms that limited payments under the second homes allowance as a moratorium. None of this would pre-empt Kelly, but it was important in the Government’s view that we did have a cap on mortgage interest payments, as it did seem that you couldn’t look at just some elements of second home allowance and not others.

Put that it looked like the Government had responded to what the leader of the opposition had set out, the PMS said that there was a meeting of the relevant committee later today. It was the PMS’s understanding that under the recent reforms that had been voted through, this committee now had enhanced powers to decide these matters without there having to be a vote in the House of Commons.

These were proposals that had been worked on for several days that we were putting to the committee for agreement today. We welcomed the fact that there was an emerging consensus on these issues as the Prime Minister had been pushing for urgent reforms on an interim basis ahead of the Kelly Report. Asked if there was a figure for the cap, the PMS said that that was something for the relevant committee to consider.

Asked if there had been any cooperation between the parties today, the PMS said that there was a meeting of the relevant committee later today, which did include representatives of the various parties. That was the normal mechanism through which these issues would be discussed and resolved and we looked forward to that meeting. In our proposals we were proposing a cap on mortgage interest payments for example, so although there was an emerging consensus, there was not a complete consensus on these issues yet and that was why we looked forward to further discussions at the relevant committee later today.

Asked if Cabinet members should pay money back, the PMS said that that was a matter for individuals, but there had to be a proper process for looking at this, otherwise people would not know if the right amount was being repaid or not. Individual members would have to make their own decisions, but there had to be an external element to this in order to ensure that we could be sure that the right amount had been paid.

Asked where the onus would be and would the external element involve people being summoned or clarification of specific expenses for instance, the PMS replied that we wanted to take this forward in a cross party consensual way. We were asking the relevant committee to make urgent proposals to look at exactly what a credible review process would look like.

Put that it had been reported that a delegation of Ministers had gone to Downing Street to discuss the future of the Speaker, the PMS said that there had been no such delegation or meeting. Asked if there had been any phone calls from Ministers to the Prime Minister on the subject of the Speaker, the PMS said that there were lots of phone calls each day involving people in Downing Street and people in Parliament, but the story as reported was simply not true.

Asked if the PMS had said at Lobby this morning that the Prime Minister had full confidence in the Speaker, the PMS replied that he had said this morning that the Prime Minister was not responsible for the appointment of the Speaker, the House of Commons was responsible for that. The Prime Minister supported the Speaker, who had been elected by the House of Commons.

Asked if the Prime Minister would be content for the Speaker to go if a body of opinion developed to that effect, the PMS said that that was a hypothetical question that he would not get into. The key point was that the House of Commons appointed the Speaker and that was the right way of doing things. The Prime Minister would always support the individual who had been elected as Speaker by the House of Commons.

Asked if the Prime Minister had a view on the Speakers comments this afternoon, the PMS said that that was a matter for the Speaker and the House of Commons. Put that the support from the Prime Minister sounded luke-warm, the PMS replied that it was no different from what he had said previously and we stood by that. Asked if the Prime Minister thought the Speaker was doing a good job, the PMS said that we stood by what we had said previously.

Asked if the Prime Minister could understand why some people might think that he ought to pay back some or all of the money he claimed for cleaning expenses, the PMS said that these were questions that related to the Prime Minister in his capacity as a constituency MP and therefore should be directed to his political colleagues.

original source.

Briefing took place at 16:45 | Search for related news

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