» Thursday, April 30, 2009

MPs’ Expenses

Asked if all the engagements the Prime Minister had that afternoon meant he would not be there for the vote on MPs expenses at 5pm, the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) told the assembled press that the Prime Minister would be there for the vote.

Asked why Parliament was not voting on grace and favour homes, the PMS replied that this was a matter for the Ministerial code, not a matter for parliamentary legislation. Asked why it had been put up in the first place, the PMS explained that it was part of a package of reforms and was one that was going ahead.

Asked if the Prime Minister was still claiming Additional Costs Allowance, the PMS said the new system for Ministerial homes would come into effect on 1 July. Asked if the Prime Minister would claim up until then, the PMS said the new system would come into effect on 1 July.

Asked if there had been any further contact between the Prime Minister and Sir Christopher Kelly in the last 24 hours, the PMS replied there had been none he was aware of. Asked why the Government’s motion was withdrawn, the PMS said the Government took the view that it was happy to accept because the first amendment from Sir George Young and his Committee, accepting it did not make any material difference to the system of MPs allowances going forward.

The PMS said Sir Christopher Kelly had already made clear that he was looking at the issue of reforming second home allowances including looking at the attendance issue, but the Government was determined to go ahead with interim measures where we could make progress, on second jobs and London allowances, on receipts and employment of MPs staff. The PMS said that the position set out today was the same as set out earlier in the week when the Government had said that the second homes issue should be referred to Sir Christopher Kelly.

Asked whether the move had anything to do with the fact the Government was going to lose the motion, the PMS said that accepting or rejecting the George Young amendment made no material difference to what was going to happen to the system of MPs allowances, as it was already the case that Kelly was looking at the issue of daily allowances. The PMS said the issues where the Government was intending to push ahead and make progress were as made clear earlier in the week – around four areas – second jobs, MPs staff, receipts and outer London MPs.

Asked why, if Sir Christopher Kelly was looking at the whole system, the Government did not just refer everything to him, the PMS replied that the Government needed to make progress now where it could make progress and that was its consistent position. The PMS acknowledged that the situation was difficult, the system had been in place for many years and changes would not always be a straightforward process, but that was not to say that no changes should be made. The PMS repeated the Prime Minister’s desire to make changes as soon as possible where he could, which was a reflection of the public’s concern on the issue.

Asked about what the implications would be if Sir Christopher Kelly’s report contradicted any progress made between now and the time of his report, the PMS said the Government had always made clear that the interim measures would not in any way pre-empt or close down any options for Sir Christopher Kelly to look at. His report would form the basis for a long-term, sustainable solution of reforms to MPs expenses but in the meantime, it was the Prime Minister’s view that there did need to be interim measures where it is possible to reach agreement on them and that’s what was being pushed ahead with today.

Asked why, if the Government was being consistent, that Government sources had only days before described Sir George’s amendment as a wrecking amendment’, the PMS said that was an important point, because Sir George had a number of amendments and only one was being accepted, which was one which did not have a material impact on the Government’s proposal for reforms to the system of MPs allowances. This was because Sir Christopher Kelly was already looking at the issues identified in the Government’s original motion and amendments were not being accepted in four or five other areas where the Government wanted to make changes now.

Asked about what discussion may have occurred in Cabinet about parliamentary business and the advice from the Chief Whip about numbers, the PMS relayed that the vast majority of Cabinet was concerned with swine flu, with presentations from the CMO and Alan Johnson and there was a short update by the Prime Minister and Lord Malloch-Brown on Sri Lanka and a short update from the Chief Whip on parliamentary business including the expenses votes this afternoon.

Asked why the Prime Minister was still claiming Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) if he wanted to make quick progress on the system of allowances, when Tony McNulty had stopped, the PMS said the Government was introducing significant changes to Grace and Favour homes and the Prime Minister had already made a number of changes which affected him directly on pension and pay. Asked how long the Prime Minister had claimed ACA, the PMS said the Prime Minister always had, as had his predecessors.

In reply to the comment that Tony McNulty had stopped claiming ACA, the PMS replied that was a different case and that the Government was making significant changes to the Ministerial code which would come into affect from 1 July.

Asked if the Government would accept Sir Christopher Kelly’s report in full, the PMS said the Government had always made clear that it believed the report should form the basis and the Government was not in any way moving away or distancing itself from Sir Christopher Kelly’s report in any way or changing its position. The PMS said the Prime Minister had called for the report and thought the right thing to do was to have a proper, thorough independent look, to look at his recommendations and see if they should form the basis of any secondary reports. The PMS acknowledged there would have to be changes to legislation.

Put that the Government had accepted an amendment from George Young but that MPs weren’t getting a chance to vote on any of the other measures, only given a chance to vote yes or no, the PMS replied this was a matter for the House authorities; anyone could put down an amendment and whether it was accepted was a matter for the Speaker.

original source.

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

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