Lords criticism of expenses reform plan

A House of Lords committee has said that the recent Parliamentary Standards Bill has been drawn up "behind closed doors" and seemed most concerned with "public perception"

The government says it is "imperative" that a new independent regulatory body for MPs’ expenses be set up quickly.

The Parliamentary Standards Bill cleared its Commons stages last week but only after the government was defeated on a clause that could have allowed things said in debates to be used in court against errant MPs.

The government want it to be on the statute books before Parliament rises for the summer on July 21st.

It will create a system of independent regulation of MPs’ salaries, allowances and financial interests.

There will also be a new Commissioner for Parliamentary Investigations, to investigate breaches of the rules on allowances and interests.

The new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) will be able to sanction MPs in response to a Commissioner’s report, or recommend sanctions to the House of Commons.

The House of Lords Constitution Committee said the bill “is the product of a desire to respond to a demand to see something done, as the Government put it, rather than the outcome of a law-making process suitable for a bill with serious constitutional repercussions.”

They said it raises “unresolved questions” about the relationship between Parliament and the courts.

“It will fall to the House of Lords to consider how the bill hangs together in the light of the decisions made in the House of Commons.

“Baroness Royall of Blaisdon, the Leader of the House of Lords, told us 24 hours before the removal of the proceedings in Parliament clause, that “The package in the bill is a coherent whole, and no part of it would work without the rest”. The bill will accordingly have to be substantially recast.

“To do so under an accelerated passage is in our view wholly unacceptable given the questions of constitutional principle and detail that it raises.”

The Lords Committee stated that self regulation of each other was a characteristic of both the Lords and the Commons in Parliament.

“The “exclusive cognisance” of each House to regulate its own affairs, free from intervention by the courts, has been a key feature of our constitutional framework. The bill breaks with that convention.

The Lords committee said:

“We are particularly concerned by the hasty manner in which policy-making has taken place, with negligible public consultation, and the subsequent ‘fast-tracking’ through Parliament of a bill which will have major constitutional implications.”

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