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.