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Leader of the House

Volume 521: debated on Thursday 20 January 2011

The Leader of the House was asked—

IPSA (Liaison Group)

1. What progress has been made on the creation of a liaison group between hon. Members and the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. (34728)

My hon. Friend will be aware of your statement on this matter yesterday, Mr Speaker. I welcome the initiative, and I understand that the liaison group will meet soon.

At present, IPSA costs the taxpayer more than its predecessor and employs one member of staff for every nine Members of Parliament. Its bureaucracy is so complicated that it takes staff roughly 1,700 calls a week to unravel its complexities. Does the Leader of the House consider that to be progress, and could he do the taxpayer a great service by offering assistance in haste to the parliamentary standards—

Order. I think we have got the gist of it, but the hon. Gentleman’s question was too long.

I agree with my hon. Friend: there are opportunities to drive down the costs, and not just for IPSA, but for Members and their staff who have to operate the system. The existing regime was set up to a challenging timetable, and IPSA is the first to recognise that improvements can be made. I hope that my hon. Friend will respond to the review that is under way and put forward suggestions for reducing the costs on both sides of the equation.

Does the Leader of the House agree that the comments made over Christmas by a member of the IPSA board—comments that were ill-informed and insulting to many Members of Parliament—were not helpful in building a positive relationship between this House and IPSA? Could he put those comments on the agenda for the liaison group’s first meeting?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that those comments were not helpful. I hope that one of the benefits of setting up the liaison group will be that we will now have a proper forum for consultation between IPSA and the House, and that there will be no need to resort to public acrimony in the newspapers. I hope that we will be able to have a sensible discussion and iron out some of the real difficulties that exist, without experiencing the kind of incidents to which the hon. Gentleman has just referred.

Earlier this week, because IPSA had failed to tell me that it had put in place a direct payment to my landlord of my London rent, as I had requested, I also paid her for my January rent. This makes for one very happy landlord and one less happy bank manager. Does my right hon. Friend agree that better communication between IPSA and MPs is vital if the expenses system is to operate in a fair and efficient way?

I am sorry that my hon. Friend has had to dig into her own resources to pay her landlady twice. One of the initiatives that I and other Members are anxious to drive forward is the removal of the need for payments to go in and out of MPs’ bank accounts. If we can move more towards direct payments by IPSA or the use of a credit card, the sort of misunderstanding that has just occurred could be avoided.

I declare an interest, as a member of the new liaison group. The House has made it clear that IPSA must reform to provide a simpler, cheaper and non-discriminatory expenses system, and the Prime Minister has told it that it must “get a grip”. What assurances has the Leader of the House had from IPSA that advice from the new liaison group will be take seriously in shaping that reform? Can he also tell us what tests the Government will apply in deciding whether IPSA has reformed itself sufficiently or whether further action needs to be taken?

I welcome the fact that the hon. Lady will be serving on the liaison group; she will make a really positive contribution to its proceedings. IPSA will take the new body seriously, because it was set up at IPSA’s suggestion. On her last point, it will not be for the Government to decide whether IPSA has responded to the challenges that she has outlined; it will be a matter for the House.