Why were expenses spared? PM asked

Author: By Nigel Morris, Deputy Political Editor

Sir Christopher Kelly, who this month drew up sweeping plans to overhaul the
Commons allowances system, said it was important for the new Parliament due
to be elected next spring to start with a “clean sheet”. He
protested that the “relatively straightforward” legislation
essential to establishing the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
(Ipsa), which will police MPs’ expenses, was absent from the package.

Sir Christopher, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said
the party leaders had agreed to implement his proposals in full.

He added: “It is disappointing therefore that today’s Queens’s Speech did
not contain measures to address the changes we believe to be necessary
affecting the remit, powers and independence of the new body being
established to regulate expenses.”

Despite the political agenda being dominated by the expenses scandal for much
of the summer, Gordon Brown did not mention the subject when he spelt out
his legislative programme in the Commons. He appears to have decided that
legislation on expenses would distract from Labour’s key pre-election
messages on education, social care and curbing bankers’ bonuses.

Number 10 said last night the vast majority of Sir Christopher’s report could
be implemented by Ipsa without the need for new laws to be passed but
further legislation will be brought forward if required. After the statement
the Conservatives accused Labour of a u-turn. David Cameron claimed that Sir
Christopher’s recommendations included 11 measures that needed to be made
law.

Also missing from the Queen’s Speech was any mention of electoral reform,
disappointing some Cabinet ministers who had hoped the package would signal
sympathy towards electoral reform. They were pressing for a paving Bill that
would set a date soon after the general election for a referendum on
scrapping first-past-the-post elections.

The Labour pressure group Progress said last night: “Without legislation
this commitment remains little more than an aspiration, rather than a real
intent to give citizens more power to vote for their representatives in
Parliament.”

Labour’s promise to make the House of Lords more democratic has been described
by Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, as “unfinished business”.
Yet the Lords Reform Bill, raising the prospect of an 80 per cent or 100 per
cent elected Upper House, was relegated yesterday to draft status. That
means it has no prospect of becoming law before the election. The expected
promise on accelerating the testing and treatment of cancer sufferers was
also missing from the package. The Government explained last night that it
did not require fresh legislation.

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