New speaker warns of watering down new expenses rules

Author: By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor

He admitted that some MPs were facing ?rough justice?, but insisted that
?denial, delay or dilution is simply not an option? if MPs were to regain
public confidence following the expenses scandal.

The veteran civil servant Sir Christopher Kelly provoked a Commons backlash
after calling for a ban on MPs employing spouses and relatives. He
recommended that MPs should in future be required to rent, rather than buy,
their second homes and that should they not be allowed to claim for
properties in London if they lived within commuting distance of Westminster.

Sir Ian Kennedy, the new chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards
Authority (IPSA), faced attacks after he suggested that he might not
implement the Kelly proposals in their entirety. It emerged yesterday that
he considered resigning the post because of the ferocity of the reaction to
his comments.

In an apparent sideswipe at Sir Ian, Mr Bercow said: ?Sir Christopher Kelly
has come forward with a detailed, explicit and comprehensive blueprint for a
reformed system which would be far better than what we have at the moment.

?I think it would be a catastrophic mistake to row back from that and to try
to stick with a system that the public regards as excessively generous and
fundamentally rotten to the core.?

The main party leaders have urged their MPs to accept the Kelly plans, but
many backbenchers have reacted with anger and dismay to the proposed reforms
and have also protested they might not get the opportunity to debate the
changes in the Commons.

Some of the 200 family members who work for MPs have sought legal advice on
whether they could challenge the ban on their employment in court.

But Mr Bercow, who succeeded Michael Martin five months ago, insisted the
public would not understand if MPs attempted to resist reforms designed to
end an ?indefensible? expenses system.

?It has to be changed,? the Speaker told BBC1?s Andrew Marr Show. “Let’s go
about the process of change together in a positive spirit, recognising that
in the end we individually and the House collectively will benefit from that
change.?

He also repeated his warning to MPs that they should accept the verdict of Sir
Thomas Legg, the former civil servant auditing their expenses, and pay back
any cash that he requires. Sir Thomas’s final demands are expected to be
sent out next month, with some politicians expected to be told to pay back
tens of thousands of pounds they insist they claimed in good faith.

But Mr Bercow said: “We have to have a conclusion, we have to have closure.
People must accept the consequences and we then move onto the future.”

He said his job was not to act as a ?shop steward? for backbenchers, but to
raise the reputation of the Commons in the country.

He said he did not doubt that most family members employed by MPs worked hard
and provided good value for money, but added: ?Public trust in Parliament
has plummeted. The damage has been seismic.

“And the truth now is that the public perception of the way in which we
operate is so negative that it is necessary to accept a wholesale,
fundamental and, I think, irrevocable change.

?An important part of that wholesale, fundamental and irrevocable change is
saying we shall not have family members employed. There’s an element of
rough justice, but it is necessary.?

Mr Bercow declined to comment on the demand made by some MPs for a pay rise of
as much as £35,000 to compensate them for the loss of their allowances.

He said he did not believe there was a big pay rise ?around the corner?, but
insisted that any future decision on MPs’ salaries should be made by an
independent body, without input from MPs, ministers or the Speaker.

Future parliamentary pay awards should take place on the principle of
?automaticity? so that neither the Prime Minister nor MPs can intervene to
change the independently determined arrangement, he said.

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