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Leader of the House

Volume 504: debated on Thursday 21 January 2010

The Leader of the House was asked—

Members’ Expenses

25. When proposals will be brought forward to implement Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations on hon. Members’ expenses; and if she will make a statement. (312141)

In relation to those recommendations of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that were identified as requiring legislation, a written ministerial statement was made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House on 10 December 2009 detailing the Government’s proposals for legislation. The House will have the opportunity to debate those proposals shortly.

We have now got a real dog’s breakfast from Sir Ian Kennedy, who has come up with a series of proposals that totally contradict Sir Christopher Kelly. Kennedy clearly does not understand the role of an MP—how he perceives it is more than 30 years out of date. Why are we not implementing Kelly’s thought-through proposals in full, so that we can move beyond the problem of MPs’ expenses?

MPs did decide not to decide on their own allowances. We have legislated to make the Parliamentary Standards Authority independent, and that body is consulting. I note my hon. Friend’s strength of feeling on the issue, but that body is two or three weeks into its consultation. If he has strong concerns, which he clearly does, I would urge him and other right hon. and hon. Members to get involved in that consultation and tell the independent authority what they believe should be happening.

Does the deputy Leader of the House agree that if we are to build on the progress that we have made over 25 years in enabling women in particular to live with their families both in London as Members of Parliament and in their constituencies, it is vital that we should have an allowance system that facilitates that? Moving to a system whereby new Members would be forced to live in tiny state-run flats in London would not help families to stay together in London and their constituencies.

As I have just pointed out, Members have opinions and comments that they want to make, and it is important that they should do so. Sir Ian Kennedy and some of the other IPSA board members were here for a meeting with Members on Monday. They are due to have three other meetings as part of their consultation. I urge the hon. Gentleman to make his points in one of those meetings or in writing, whichever he prefers.

I want to add my voice to the concerns expressed about weakening Christopher Kelly’s proposals, which were welcomed by every person in this House—well, most people. The proposals outlined by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority weaken his proposals on travel, employing relatives and the capital gains allowance. My hon. Friend really must keep an eye on the proposals coming out of IPSA, because they are deeply concerning to everybody.

I have to keep re-emphasising that that body is independent. This is not the place to debate such matters. The place to talk about them is in the consultation, either in writing or at meetings; it is not in this Chamber.

Can the deputy Leader of the House explain to some of her colleagues that if Sir Christopher Kelly does not hold a proper consultation, any decision that he makes thereafter will be at risk of being challenged by judicial review? It is therefore in everyone’s interest that, for future certainty, there should be a proper consultation, so that whatever proposals emerge are not vulnerable to being struck down by judicial review.

Yes, indeed. The consultation process that is being embarked upon is statutory. The Parliamentary Standards Act 2009 says which Members are to be consulted, but in addition to the specific consultees who are listed, for the first time there will also be a substantial consultation with the public. The public can express their views, Members can and should express theirs, and I urge people to take part in that consultation.

Private Bills

26. If she will bring forward proposals for amendments to Standing Orders to reduce the number of private Bills introduced in a parliamentary Session. (312142)

Private Bills enable individual local authorities to obtain legal powers that are additional to those generally given to them. Reducing the number of private Bills would mean denying that facility to local authorities or other bodies. Private Bills are also needed to deal with those bodies that are established under private Acts such as the Crossrail Act 2008 and the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, which can be amended only by private Bills. I therefore have no plans to bring forward changes to Standing Orders.

I regret the response of the deputy Leader of the House. She is quite correct that large-scale projects such as the channel tunnel should be dealt with through private Bills. However, a lot of cities are currently trying to change the law on pedlars through private Bills, which is wasting parliamentary time. This afternoon we will spend another three hours on such Bills. Their number should be limited.

I have figures for the length of time that was spent on private Bills in the 2007-08 Session: it was less than 0.5 per cent. of our sitting time. I am slightly surprised that the hon. Gentleman cannot see the benefits of a localised approach that gives specific powers when they are needed. There tend to be only three or four private Bills each year, and they do help local authorities when they have specific issues.