MPs expenses (again)

Yesterday on BBC TV I was confronted by a statement that Alan Duncan (Shadow Leader of the House)had called for the Housing allowance to be abolished and replaced by a large pay rise for MPs. Did I agree?

Of course I didn’t. I subsequently asked Alan Duncan if he had said that, and he assured me he had not proposed any pay rise in the current climate. He isn’t deaf to the public mood either.

So what should be done? Parliament is just the outward and visible manifestation of Labour’s unproductive, costly and badly run public sector generally. Reform of the public sector to serve the public better at less cost needs to start there, to provide a lead to the rest.

Here are some commonsense proposals to raise productivity, cut costs and improve efficiency:

1. Have fewer MPs. My productivity was slashed by around one quarter in the last boundary review for no good reason, when they took a large number of electors away from the seat. It is quite possible for MPs to represent 80,000 or 90,000 people instead of the 70,000 average at the moment.

2. Cut the MP staffing allowance to cover the costs of two rather than three full time well paid assistants and secretaries. That should be enough to do the job to a decent standard, and might remove some of the spin doctors and hangers on who manage to creep within the rules.

3. Reduce the large police presence in the Palace, so more police can be policing our constituents home areas where they would be welcome

4. Introduce a September session to hold the governent to account – not for more legislating, with Question times, debates on topical topics and opportunities to cross examine Ministers on their conduct.

5. Tell all candidates to Parliament before the next General Election that the MPs pension scheme will be closed to new members from the date of that election, to be replaced by a money purchase scheme along private sector lines.

6. Cut the budget for building works at the Palace, to try to stop all the clumsy new security and Visitor constructions that increasingly disfigure the place

7. Make Parliament sit until 10 pm on a Wednesday as well as on Monday and Tuesday, to give more time to examine important issues

8. Buy a block of flats in Westminster around the time of the next General Election when the market may be offering better value. Make these available to MPs who need overnight accommodation in London. They would not then be eligible for a housing allowance. Allow existing MPs a sensible phase out period for their current arrangements, as selling London properties in the current market will not prove easy.

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33 Comments

  1. Jim Pearson
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Good idea, and good performance yesterday.

  2. Simon D
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:45 am | Permalink

    MPs basic pay is too far behind public sector norms. Salaries of £100,000+ are now unremarkable in the public sector and the Government and Government funded payroll has created a new elite. The BBC leads the was and DG pulls in about £700,000 including “performance” pay. Basic salary levels also determine pension levels (two thirds of final salary).

    Being a politician is now a career. You start as a student activist, go on to be a researcher or a lobbyist or a TU or media employee and then acquire a seat. You then hang on to this for dear life until the music stops – in some cases not until you are over 70. You do not need any interaction with the real world on your CV.

    Five years ago it was OK for MPs to wear a hair shirt over remuneration because public sector pay was mediocre. Now things have changed and public sector employees are the new fat cats.

    MPs need to bite the bullet and increase their pay to about £120,000. It would kill off the sniping about “expenses” at one stroke. Sure, there would be a media-fest for about two weeks, then everybody would “move on”.

    You didn’t mention the House of Lords in your check list. Why do we need over 700 of them?

    Reply: There are too many peers. I would have a “use it or lose it rule” requiring minimum attendance and voting standards.

    • Freddy
      Posted March 24, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

      “Five years ago it was OK for MPs to wear a hair shirt over remuneration because public sector pay was mediocre. Now things have changed and public sector employees are the new fat cats.”

      That came about because of “the need to compete with the private sector for the best talent” and suchlike nonsense.
      Now, the private sector is being hammered, and a lot of people are going to lose jobs at all levels. The public sector cannot expect both comparable remuneration and job security in the higher ranks.

      How about an immediate 20% pay cut for all quangocrats earning – or rather, being paid – more than £100k, with more to come.

  3. Colin Holland
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Totally agree we need less MP’s and more accountability.
    A plan should be drawn up to reimburse travel expenses for MP’s living out of London and this is capped depending on the distance from their true family home to Westminster.
    Not sure about the overnight accommodation as I have not the facts but it needs to change.
    MP’s through McNulty, Straw, Smith et al have eroded completely any confidence that MP’s can manage their own affairs.
    In the past they had interraction with the real world, but not now. They are also breeding into each other a la Balls and McNulty so even more increasing their myopic view of the world.
    We need to totally reform the House of Commons.

    • mikestallard
      Posted March 24, 2009 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

      And how about introducing a secret ballot for each vote too?
      That way the party system would be wrecked. The Whips might well suggest what the vote should be but they would have no way of enforcing it.
      MPs with some sort of conscience would be freed up to vote as they felt right. They might even turn up for debates and listen to the arguments. Pairing, of course, would be stopped too because you wouldn’t be able to trust your pair.
      At a stroke, the dictatorship of the Party leader would be snapped.
      Parliament might then be what it ought to be: a place where cases are put, listened to, considered and then decided upon.
      At the moment, you are right: it is crying out for reform.

  4. Donna W
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:13 am | Permalink

    The disconnect between the ‘rules’ and benefits which apply to ordinary members of the electorate and those which apply to MPs is becoming dangerous. All the allowances and ‘perks’ which apply to MPs need urgent review and I see nothing to disagree with in your proposals.

    In particular, the ratio of MP to constituents should apply nationwide – so that the warped representations in Scotland and Wales are brought into line with the rest of the country. There is no reason why these countries – which already have their own devolved Parliaments – should have more MPs proportionate to their populations – than England.

    And I second Simon D. We do not need 700+ Lords. The Upper Chamber should be cut by half and their attendance allowance should only be paid if they attend for a full working day. The practice of ‘signing in’ to claim the allowance and then disappearing should cease.

  5. Jonathan
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Your list is entirely sensible and I would agree with it all. I can’t imagine on what grounds any politician or media member would disagree with it and I imagine most of the public would back it too.

    Yet it will never happen. Why do we have an establishment that is so incapable of doing anything right or properly representing the people? Time for a revolution.

  6. Colin D.
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    Since 80% of the laws now emanate from Europe, one would have thought the size and cost of the whole parliament ‘industry’ should have been cut commensurately. The objective should be to cost the whole thing and announce it is to be halved as a first step.
    Perhaps there is an argument for keeping things the same in the hope we will exit the EU and then everything would be in place to restore democracy, but I think democracy would be best served by cutting to the core and rebuilding.
    Such a drastic cut would (1) help bring home to the electorate the extent that we have given our rights, freedoms and parliamentary democracy away to Europe without being asked (2) cause us to ask just what MPs are doing with all their spare time – JR excepted. They certainly don’t seem to be fagged to sit in The House as testified by the rows of empty benches on our tvs (3) set an example of the drastic cost cutting that will now be required of us and our children as a result of Brown’s profligacy and bad management.

  7. Anoneumouse
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    The purchase of a block of flats is a good idea. Something along the lines of the Union Jack Club for backbenchers and maybe something similar to the family quarters at Hyde Park Bks for ministers.

  8. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    Good to see you on “Daily Politics” and given a little more time to explain your thoughts and ideas of how to handle the banking crisis. The BBC’s favourite, Vince Cable, was suitably deferential.

    As for MPs expenses, your suggestions are all worthy. What is the value of an MP who is no more than a party hack going through the lobbies regardless, to support an undemocratic leadership and acting as little more than a postbox for the constituents? Too many have lost (if they ever had) the notion of public service but learnt a lot about how to enrich themselves at the public’s expense. The same has happened in local government where councillors now receive quite generous payments and have unnecessary titles to make them sound grand.

  9. Mark M
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    As of the 2005 election, Andrew Turner, the Member for the Isle of Wight, represents over 107,000 registered voters and with 32,717 votes, received more votes than any other MP.

    If Mr Turner can represent this many people then so can any MP. This would leave us with 412 MPs (England 344, Scotland 36, Wales 21, NI 11).

    While I don’t expect the Tories to reduce the number of MPs down to this many I do hope that they seriously look at the issue, as I have shown that parliament is overstaffed by over 50%.

  10. oldrightie
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    If this BBC comment was a lie could they not be taken to task? They really are beyond the pale. As for the rest of the essay, would that we had 400 MPs of your intellect, I could enjoy life!

  11. Roy
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I absolutely agree with every word and the sooner we get on with it the better. Another reason to reduce numbers of MPs is that much of their former workload is now done by the European Parliament and the Scottish and Welsh assemblies. I would just add three points;

    1 To give the people better value MP’s holidays should be curtailed drastically, if my calculation is correct holidays take up approximately 40% of each year. (Mere mortals get around 10% if they are lucky).

    2 The parliamentary term should be reduced from 5 years to 4 to make government more responsive and give the electorate more opportunity to express its view.

    3 Carry out a similar approach to regional and local government, lets look at their numbers, let’s, for example have these bodies release details of their organisation charts with numbers of staff in each department or section with salaries so we can see what they are up to and challenge some of their activities.

  12. DBC Reed
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    What of the great Screaming Lord Sutch’s suggestion (one of many) of putting parliament on wheels and moving it round the country?Now that Mp’s can keep their files on computers,there is no reason why they cannot move round to conference centres or share out stints of commuting.This would also give provincial baying mobs the chance to remonstrate with elected representatives, a privilege restricted to London trouble makers at present.

    • chris southern
      Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      The cost in security would be rediculous, it costs enough just for Mr Browns little P.R. stunts and Mrs Smiths “second home” security.

  13. APL
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    JR: “Here are some commonsense proposals to raise productivity, cut costs and improve efficiency:”

    How reasonable. But a couple of comments.

    1. Why have the Tory party sat back and allowed the Labour influenced boundry commission to gerrymander the constituencies?

    Talking of ‘gerrymandering’ we need another long hard look at postal voting. Labour have embraced the internet age, they seem to have several ‘virtual’ constituencies for every real one.

    4. An excellent Idea.

    5. Quite reasonable. Should be extended to the public sector at large.

    8. A Block of flats sounds like a good idea, the old county hall across the river would have been ideal. Pity.

    Still a little uneasy why an MP should benefit from capital gain on a house largely funded by the tax payer. But perhaps ‘the market’ will address that issue.

    JR: “as selling London properties in the current market will not prove easy. ”

    Welcome to the real world.

  14. Adam P
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    Excellent ideas!

    Perhap not no.3 though. Reducing the police presence in the Palace might send the wrong message (remember the Falklands). We need to keep our legislature secure. I particularly like the block of flats idea!

    But how do we persuade Europe to reduce the cost and expenses of the MEPs?

  15. chris southern
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Nice ideas and list Mr Redwood, their is a little hope left for parliment after all.
    Maybe not for UKPLC, but many business fail and are replaced 🙂

  16. Julian Gall
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Require each candidate for election to state how much they will take in pay and expenses each year until the next election. The amount should be entirely up to them and the voters can decide. This should eliminate any debate because each MP will have been elected with the electorate having full knowledge of what he/she will be paid.

    This will have the added benefit of opening up safe seats to “cheaper” candidates, thereby making it harder for the pollsters to predict the result and bringing more excitement and interest to elections.

  17. THE ESSEX BOYS
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Good to see specific proposals rather than the normal bleating surrounding this subject.
    Whilst the topic is an obvious vote winner the system will only be changed if enough insiders break ranks and ‘turn Queen’s evidence’! JR was, perhaps understandably, reluctant to comment on the Jacqui Smith issue for some time but now he seems to be up and running and we look forward to more good sense.

    What point is there in MPs concocting false motives for claims when arch culprit Tony McNulty has stated immediately upon being found out that MP salaries should rise to compensate for any loss in allowances. So that thought was unrelated to your claims for your Harrow house, Tony?
    The present system is so damned furtive and demeaning for our community leaders.

    As for poor pay, the Mail today listed the ‘extras’ an MP enjoys:

    * 2nd Home costs allowance – upto £24k pa

    * Subsistence allowance – £25 for every night away from home
    (Either home? Holiday periods
    too? Not sure.)

    * Travel expenses – per annum: 30 free family rail tickets, 3
    Europe trips, unlimited 1st & business class travel, 10,000 car
    miles at 40p, thereafter 25p. (one MP claimed £16,612 in a
    year!)

    * Staffing allowance – upto £100,205pa

    * Incidental expenses – upto £22,193pa

    * Communications allowance – upto £10,400pa

    We’d be amazed if at least another £60,000pa did not flow directly into many MPs family coffers which would make worth it £100,000pa if taxed. Whilst £160,000 pa does not put MPs into the Premiership footballer’s park, like them, where else would most earn that same money?
    And this doesn’t take into account select committee, ministerial & cabinet pay scales.

    IN SHORT WE CANNOT CONCLUDE THAT MPS ARE UNDERPAID.

    There’s much more we could say about the similarities between the PMs sudden announcement last night and Blair’s Hutton enquiry tactics on his Japanese cavort after David Kelly died. ‘Taking the heat out’…’Long grass’…’safe pair of hands’…’must wait for the enquiry to report’ etc, etc!
    However I’m sure we’ll all be returning to the subject soon!

    • mikestallard
      Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

      The problem is surely whether you look up at the EU or down at the electors.
      Where I live, £20-£30,000 is a good wage, especially for the immigrants who are my friends. Janusz, a trained electrician who is learning English, with a pregnant wife and ten year old daughter, has to work in a food processing factory. It is going to be tough for him.
      On “Deal or no Deal” today, a man was fighting for the “life changing” sum of £50,000 – much less than Mr McNulty applied for and got.
      Catherine Ashton, who in October 2008 replaced Lord Mandelson as EU Commissioner receives £1,000,000 on her retirement in the summer, as does each of the other Commissioners.

  18. Simon_c
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    I like nearly all of those ideas (not sure on the security/cost trade-off of number 3 though, but then I don’t know the details)

    If they don’t go for the block of flats idea then:

    *Any* MP who does get the 2nd home allowance should have to realize any capitol gain of that 2nd home within 6 months of leaving parliament. The capitol gain should be used to repay all the 2nd home allowance. Anything left over should be taxed as income.

    The aim for expenses should be to keep it clear and transparent.

    MPs office expenses (people and buildings) should be paid for from the house of commons, not from the MP’s expenses.
    Any other expenses should be treated by the same rules as the inland revenue treat anybody else’s expenses. If there are items that the party, constituency or House of Commons think should have the tax paid on them by themselves, then that’s fine. As long as it’s all visible to the public and media.

  19. Lola
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    In Re No 8. I can see the headlines now. “MP’s get free flats”. ‘Your News of the Daily Sun reporter met Miss Whiplash (age 25 from Bermondsey) earlier this week. ‘Them flats is lovely inside’. She said. ‘They are so quiet Mr. X and I were able to play out our games and no-one could hear us’. ‘I didn’t know oo ‘ee was until the next day’. ‘My cabbie told me ‘ee was orlways dropping us girls orf there’. The Minister declined to comment.

  20. Nick
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    There are some nice little social housing blocks around Elephant and Castle. A few problems with drugs and theft, but nothing that a few MPs would have sorted just by moving some of the police there.

    Why are you going for a 20% improvement. Look at the number of US politicians at the top level (House of Rep + Congres). 500,000 people politician. I think you could work at that level.

    After all, you’ve got the MEPs too.

    In reality you’ve got no choice. You are going to have to decimated the public services several times. You will need a 20-30% cut just to move to breaking even.

    It’s clear this is going to happen, and its why Cameron won’t comment on it. 5 billions in savings when you are overspending by 200 billion is just a farcical answer.

    Nick

  21. TomTom
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

    The taxpayer should also provide Constituency Offices to whichever Candidate wins the election. They could be fully-equipped with IT and security systems and of a consistently high standard with access to databases and quality reception for constituents to discuss their problems.

  22. alan jutson
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:06 pm | Permalink

    John
    Nice to see some commonsense and practical suggestions, with which I heartily agree, especially the block of flats which I mentioned last week as a solution!!!!!!!

    The block of flats would need to be secure for very sensible reasons (a lot of MPs in one place risk) and so Lola’s Miss Whiplash should find it difficult to enter, unless of course she is signed in.

    Why is it that no other MP can see that all/some of these suggestions are simply commonsense.

    Do you think you will be asked for your views when the review takes place in 6 months time.

    Reply: This blog piece is my contribution to the Review. The proposal to have fewer MPs, and to change the MPs pension arrangements are both Conservative party policy.

  23. mikestallard
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    Law of unintended consequences: Get rid of Gentleman’s Clubs and, Bingo! – you get MPs swindling their housing allowance!

    What worries me most in our host’s blog today, is the remark about Alan Duncan. Splashed across the front page of the Mail was “£40,000 pay increase” for all MPs. Alan Duncan was quoted inside on page 6, but he certainly did not mention this number.
    Then again, yesterday our host mentioned that there was a good deal of media interest in Mr Clarke saying about the 45% tax increase.

    What is shocking is the way that the Press and BBC seem to be making up the news as they go along. It is ceasing to bear any relation to the truth. And this is new.

    When Alastair Campbell and Tony Blair deliberately started off the spin machine in 1997, they limited Press Releases to papers which said nice things about the government. This included the previously fair Murdoch Press. Only the Mail and Telegraph continued to print what they thought was the truth.

    That is why it is terribly sad to see the Mail fall into the trap of inventing News.
    Especially when more and more people are getting their News off the internet.

  24. Mick
    Posted March 24, 2009 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    Make Parliament sit until 10 pm on a Wednesday as well as on Monday and Tuesday, to give more time to examine important issues

    My MP only attends parliament for 3 days a week anyway. Like any other worker, they should be required to attend for a minimum number of hours per week.

    And I notice you don’t mention the quite unbelievable level of holidays either.

  25. Colin Holland
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    John – “Why is it that no other MP can see that all/some of these suggestions are simply commonsense?”

    Common sense is not common.

    MP’s have vested interests and believe they are free agents, whereas we know that too many of them have their loyalties to the party first, themselves second, their families third, and the country a long way down. As for the public, they have to be endured and their opinions ignored until even the MP’s deafness is broken, usually through the media.

    Personally I believe the party political system is very near to its “not fit for purpose” stage.
    We need an upper council of some 12-20 wise people who can adjudicate (with outside expertise) to a lower council of some 100 apolitical elected regional leaders, within a system whereby parties (but not strategic issue alliances) are banned.
    Problem is that the country is not ready for this, and the current political parties are definately not.

  26. jt
    Posted March 25, 2009 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    good suggestions.
    additionally.

    abolish the lords
    replace with an elected chamber
    proportional rep
    and from a party list
    200 representatives
    5 year fixed terms
    no more than 2 terms for each member
    save money – more democratic – allows specialists – provide check and balance

  27. Duyfken
    Posted March 26, 2009 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    It is reported today (Wednesday, 26th March) that Mr McNulty is to be investigated over his expenses claims.

    The DT says: “Sir Christopher Kelly, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said it would begin later this year but not report until after the next general election, expected in 2010.”

    What sort of justice is this? Why so long? Could not such a matter be dealt with in a matter of days or weeks? How long does it take to verify the facts – surely not over 12 months? Where is the sense or urgency as one might expect in dealing with such a serious matter? The delay is bad for all concerned, not least for the central figure who has the matter hanging over his head.

    Justice delayed is justice denied.

  28. Nick
    Posted March 28, 2009 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    I’m a bit late on this one, but I’d go further than closing the MPs’ pension scheme to new entrants. In common with many private sector employers, I’d close it to further accrual by existing members. My employer did this 18 months ago, largely as a result of accounting regulations introduced by this Government. They can keep what they have already “earned” up to, say, the next election, either linked to salary or index-linked, but not building up further years of service. Beyond that, they can pay into (yes, pay into – enough of this non-contributory nonsense unless it’s accompanied by a salary exchange) a money purchase/defined contribution scheme like the rest of us.

  29. Arleen
    Posted May 10, 2009 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Disappointed that you haven’t updated this subject, as it has blown up like a powder keg since then. I’m trying to get someone somewhere to apologise. I as a member of the public are sickened, disgusted and incensed by this whole thing, I am a 71 yr old pensioner on a pension of £95 pw, rather than take hand outs I work, as a cleaner, my yearly wage is sweetie money to you people, oh, and I pay tax to let the accused shower of parasites and thieves live a life of luxury, the lot should be sacked and only those who haven’t milked the system be held on to till their whole contribution has been analized, and then trawl through the list of people who have been awarded medals for heroic deeds, or even the cast of East Enders would be a better choice

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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