Members Estimate Committee First Report



REPORT

Introduction

1. The Committee was established on 29 January 2004, in the light of recognition that the governance arrangements for expenditure charged to the Estimate for House of Commons: Members required reform. There was a consensus that it was inappropriate to have to take up time on the floor of the House with minor or technical changes to the allowances regime. A body was required to take decisions on second level issues of detail and provide Member oversight equivalent to that provided by the House of Commons Commission of the administration of the House.[1]

Meetings

2. The Committee met on eight occasions in 2004. From January 2005 the formal minutes of proceedings recording the Committee's principal decisions will be published to the internet soon after the relevant meeting.

Audit Committee

3. In June 2004 the Committee appointed a Members Estimate Audit Committee, with the same membership as the Administration Estimate Audit Committee, comprising Mr Oliver Heald MP (Chairman), Sir Archy Kirkwood MP, Sir Thomas Legg KCB QC, and Mr David Taylor.

Concordance

4. Standing Order No. 152D obliges the Committee to publish "not less than once a year" an updated set of the Resolutions relating to expenditure charged to the Estimate for House of Commons: Members, as codified and modified by the Committee. This "concordance" of the Resolutions governing the regime of Members allowances has been reported to the House and is now electronically available, via the Committee's website.[2] It will be printed as a stand-alone document and sent to all Members when the Green Book is next published. The Committee intends in future years to arrange for the publication of an updated concordance when the Green Book is printed, or as appropriate.

Publication of allowances

5. Much of the Committee's work in its first year has been concerned with arrangements for the publication in October 2004 of details of expenditure on Members' allowances, including the form and timing of their publication. The next such publication, covering the figures for financial year 2004-05, is planned for the autumn of 2005.

Changes

6. The Committee has agreed to a number of changes to the Members allowances regime over the past year, recorded in detail in the concordance referred to in para 4 above and in the changes made to the electronic version of the Green Book. In addition to a number of technical changes, the Committee agreed over the course of the year-

Incidental Expenses Provision

7. On 3 November 2004 the House referred recommendation 8 of the Report of the Review Body on Senior Salaries on parliamentary pay and allowances[3] to the Members Estimate Committee for further consideration.[4] The SSRB recommended that the level of Incidental Expenses Provision should be increased to a maximum of £27,500: and that the amount of IEP that might be claimed should be abated by £7,500 for each permanent workstation occupied by Members' staff on the Parliamentary Estate, with the proposed new maximum amount available only to those Members who had no permanent workstation for their staff on the Parliamentary Estate. At its meeting on 13 December 2004 the Committee decided to recommend to the House that no further action should for the present be taken on Recommendation 8 of the SSRB Report.

8. The current level of IEP (£19,325), uprated in line with inflation from 1 April 2005, will therefore continue to apply, with no abatements. The Committee is however aware of the pressures on the parliamentary estate, and of the Commission's policy as recorded in its Annual Report that—

    "Members should be encouraged as far as possible to locate constituency office staff away from Westminster because of the pressure on space and services."[5]

The Committee has therefore set in hand a paper audit of the numbers and categories of Members' staff working on the estate. It has also authorised the offer to Members of the services of property specialists to help locate reasonably-priced office accommodation in high-price areas.

Mileage

9. At its meeting on 13 December 2004, the Committee had before it figures provided by the Department of Finance and Administration on the effects of the new car mileage allowance regime agreed by the House on 3 November 2004. It decided to write to the Leader of the House to ask him to put a Motion before the House to enable Members to determine whether or not they would favour phasing in the new arrangements, and to decide on the appropriate level of the mileage threshold used in determining the rate payable. The text of this letter is appended to the Report.


1   HC Deb, 29 January 2004, cols 406-418 Back

2   www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/mec/mec_reports_and_publications.cfm Back

3   CM 6354-I Back

4   Votes and Proceedings, 3 November 2004, page 917 Back

5   HC791 of Session 2003-04, para 252 Back


 
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Prepared 21 January 2005