Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): I thank the Leader of the House for her statement and may I take this opportunity to deplore the way in which Sir Christopher’s report was selectively leaked last week?
This report was commissioned because neither the House nor the Senior Salaries Review Body was able to come up with a sustainable solution to the vexed question of our allowances. On behalf of my party, I wish to thank Sir Christopher and his colleagues for producing a thorough report, whose conclusions we shall accept in full and take forward.
My brief questions fall into two parts—first on the process for implementing reform and, secondly, on the substance of some of the recommendations. On process, does the Leader of the House agree that now that the report has been published, our priority should be to ensure that these reforms are implemented as quickly as possible? Is not the position now very different to that when Sir Christopher began his review? Then he was going to produce the definitive response on which we would vote, and possibly resolve this by Christmas. But since June, as the Leader of the House said, the Parliamentary Standards Act has been put on the statute book, giving IPSA and not Kelly the final say on our allowances. So today’s report is not the end of the process—that rests with IPSA, which is not yet constituted. Does she agree that it is important, therefore, that the consultation on Sir Christopher’s report and the consultation that IPSA is obliged to carry out should happen at the same time? Does that not mean that IPSA should be up and running as soon as possible, taking Kelly as its text, and if we move quickly, might IPSA come to its conclusions on the Kelly report by February? Under that scenario, can she confirm that the interim arrangements might run until the new IPSA regime kicks in, possibly at the beginning of the next Parliament? Related to that, does she recognise that the continued uncertainty of the timetable for establishing IPSA is causing anxiety for many staff at the Department of Resources, who have to keep the show on the road without knowing their future? Finally, on process, does the Leader of the House recognise that some of the recommendations will require primary legislation, and when does she plan to introduce that?
Turning to the substance of the recommendations, I declare an interest in the employment of relatives. I believe that there is insufficient appreciation of the demanding jobs that all staff do, often at antisocial hours, and many colleagues on both sides of the House, and indeed their constituents, will attest to the invaluable service that family members can, and do, provide, as was confirmed by Sir Christopher this morning. However, does the right hon. and learned Lady accept, as I do, that in a modern Parliament the current arrangements no longer carry public confidence? Does she agree that we need to accept Sir Christopher’s recommendations while considering closely his proposed transitional period to ensure that the House does not fall foul of employment law?
On communications, we welcome Sir Christopher’s endorsement of our proposals to scrap the communications allowance, and I welcome what he said on MPs who retain outside interests. I also welcome the recommendation to enable IPSA to look at pay, pensions and allowances, enabling the full spectrum of MPs’ remuneration to be considered in the round. Does the right hon. and learned Lady agree that it was the fragmented approach of the past that is partly to blame for the mess that we are in today?
On accommodation, again we support Sir Christopher’s recommendations. The public have lost confidence in the current regime, and it has to change. As Sir Christopher says, IPSA will need to look closely at the proposals in the report. There are legitimate concerns with aspects of it, particularly the rules surrounding those who are expected to get back to their constituencies at night. Does the right hon. and learned Lady accept that Sir Christopher’s proposals on rent will need to be monitored by IPSA to ensure that the overall package is not more expensive than it is now? Does his package meet the Prime Minister’s test on reducing the cost to the taxpayer?
Finally, the issue before us has dogged the House for the past 12 months. The public are waiting for action. Sir Christopher provides the basis for an enduring settlement that is fair to the taxpayer and Members of the House—existing and potential—who need the resources to do the job properly without relying on private means. Is it not now paramount that we make urgent progress in what remains of this Parliament, so that we can return to our core tasks of scrutinising legislation, holding the Government to account and fighting for our constituents, and so that we can bequeath to our successors in the next Parliament the opportunity of a fresh start?
Ms Harman: I thank the shadow Leader of the House for his comments, and I agree with him in deploring the leak.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the point about getting on as quickly as possible with the implementation of the Kelly report, and he is right of course that when Sir Christopher Kelly started his work, the idea was that he would produce a report and that it would come back to the House to be implemented. After he started his work, we decided to set up IPSA, to which his report will now go for implementation. I confirm to the House that IPSA is already up and running. We expect it, of course, to take Kelly as its text, and the current interim regime of allowances will continue and subsist until such time as the whole regime is taken over by IPSA.
On the question about proposals for changes in the legislation on the structure of IPSA, obviously if a new Act of Parliament is brought forward and a new authority set up, it would start its work and Parliament can keep the legislative framework under review. However, I do not think that we should be addressing the question of legislating to change the IPSA structure. The important thing is for it to be getting on with its work.
The right hon. Gentleman acknowledged that the important thing is not to take the proposals piecemeal and for the House not to pick out any one proposal, but that we should simply send the whole package to IPSA. However, he commented on the employment of relatives and accommodation. It is right to recognise, as Sir Christopher Kelly did, that a great deal of hard work is done by the spouses employed by Members of Parliament, which is much valued by constituents. Sir Christopher’s proposal for a change in the system should absolutely not cause a cloud to hang over the heads of those who have done, and continue to do, good work in the public interest, and of course IPSA will not want to fall foul of employment law.
On accommodation, it is of course right that IPSA will need to look at the detailed implementation issues that will arise in moving from mortgages to rents or hotels. As the right hon. Gentleman said, we will need to look at how IPSA gets it right. It will of course need to keep an eye on cost, and cost will depend on implementation.