This is what it says about my expenses in today’s Legg report (on page 75):
Mr Oliver Heald MP
North East Hertfordshire
Mr Heald has no issues.
Do you ever think that politics has become too negative? Most people want politicians to make a difference and change things for the better. Yet all too often we hear sniping and sneering at the ideas of others. I think it is a refreshing feature of David Cameron’s leadership that he is upbeat and positive. Whether in pushing the environment up the national agenda or explaining that public spending must be controlled or saying that he will protect the NHS, he is clearly setting out his policies for Britain. This contrasts with the recent attempt by the Prime Minister to attack him because of his background. I think politics should be about what’s best for Britain’s future, not puerile personal attacks of this sort. I wonder if Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt share my concerns and that this prompted them to act as they did yesterday. As a result of poor economic decisions, the UK is in a mess and we are all in it together. We need to work hand in hand to tackle the crisis. So, let’s have a New Year’s Resolution, Prime Minister to get your priorities right, stop dithering and take the measures needed to start to move Britain forward. Britain can’t go on like this. It’s time for change.
I was delighted when the Leader of the House of Commons conceded that legislation would be required to implement the recommendations in the Kelly Report on expenses and that they will bring in the changes.
At the time of the Queens Speech I asked the Leader of House, Harriet Harman, if she would support a Bill to implement the 11 law changes recommended by the Kelly Committee, her reaction was lukewarm and confused – saying “we do not want to legislate if that is unnecessary” (see the Hansard record of my request on 19 November, here).
All the main parties accepted the recommendations in the Committee’s report, yet the Labour Government stalled over the necessary law changes.
When I asked Harriet Harman if she would put the recommendations into law before the general election, she said that she thought some of the recommendations could be implemented using powers that already existed. Yet it was clear from the Kelly Report that this was wrong.
The past few weeks have been difficult on many levels. At Westminster, MPs feel a sense of collective shame and remorse that the expenses system could have descended into such a mess. This is coupled with shock and disappointment at those Colleagues – many of whom have had long and distinguished careers in the House – whose behaviour appears to have gone far beyond anything acceptable. Change to the expenses regime has been swift and decisive. David Cameron took a strong lead by restricting the headings under which Conservative MPs could make claims for their additional accommodation and these restrictions have now been adopted across the House. We are all now waiting for the Kelly Report, which will undoubtedly recommend an open and transparent system for the future.
I would like to see an early General Election, but out of this awful mess, we are already seeing some positive consequences. Gordon Brown made an important Statement to the House on Constitutional Reform in a number of areas. There is going to be a national debate over the coming months on fundamental issues such as the power of the Executive, the size of Parliament, the composition of the House of Lords. However, I do doubt whether now is the right time to be considering a move to Proportional Representation – at the end of a parliament and after the governing party has had its worst election results for generations, particularly just after “PR” has let in two BNP MEPs. This issue needs more measured reflection and should not be a desperate last throw of the dice.
Last night, I went to a remarkable public meeting organised by David’s Bookshop in Letchworth Garden City, where these issues and many more were discussed. It was the best political meeting I have been to for many years. Understandably, I was asked about my own expenses in detail and was happy to give clear straightforward answers. But these questions were in the minority and far more speakers wanted to talk about the fundamental issues in our democracy and how change can strengthen it. The views I heard were sincerely and passionately held and arguments were carefully and thoughtfully presented. A spotlight has been shone on Parliament and although it has highlighted shortcomings which need to be sorted out, it has also galvanised the country into thinking seriously and constructively about how the institution can be improved.
To read a copy of the speech I made at last night’s public meeting click here.
Fairness and Accountability
Britain today is over governed over regulated and over taxed. As the decisive result of the North East regional assembly referendum illustrates, people do not believe that more politicians will help solve the problems they face in their daily lives.
Conservative will reduce unnecessary and costly interference in people’s lives by reducing the size and role of the State to be small.
A Conservative Government will freeze civil service recruitment. We will restore power to local government and to the professionals who work in our public services. We will free our schools and hospitals from centrally imposed Whitehall targets. Doctors and nurses will run our hospitals – and teachers will run our schools.
We will introduce a Smaller Government Bill in its first year. That Bill will:
– Reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of government ministers by 20 per cent
– Reduce the number of special advisers by 20 per cent
2. Fewer Members of Parliament
Today there are 659 MPs in the House of Commons. Conservatives believe that Britain as too many politicians. We question the need for so many legislators. If we are serious about reducing the size of the State, we need to start by controlling the number of MPs.
– We propose reducing the size of the House of Commons by a fifth, slimming down the number of MPs from the current level of 659 to 525
– Conservatives will introduce primarily legislation in our first ear – a Smaller Government Bill – to deliver the change, and ask the Parliamentary Boundary Commissions to draw up new boundaries. This would allow the change to be delivered within the first term of a Conservative Government, with the subsequent general election operating o the new boundaries.
More Equal Representation
Votes in different parts of the UK have widely different values. This is unfair. In 2001, the average size of an English constituency was 69,928 electors, in Northern Ireland it was 66,167 while the average size of a Welsh constituency was 55,904. Even within England there are big variations. The current Boundary Commission review proposes constituencies of widely different sizes – from Hackney South and Shoreditch (57,204) to Banbury (78,817) and the Isle of Wight (103,480).
– A Conservative Government will end the discrepancy between the size of Parliamentary constituencies, by introducing a fixed electoral quota across the United Kingdom (i.e. the electorate divided by 525). This would mean that there were approximately 84,000 electors per constituency, compared to an average of 67,000 today.
– This is a fairer system, as it ensures, each elector in the United Kingdom will have the same level of Parliamentary representation. Using a fixed quota of 525 seats will also prevent the Commons growing in size if the UK population rises
Reducing the Cost
MPs’ pay and allowances currently cost £127 million, while the Commons administration costs £148 million. There are clearly certain fixed costs to running the Commons. Notwithstanding, Conservatives believe that these proposals to reduce the number of MPs by 20 per cent would save between £30 and £40 million a year.
3. Fewer Ministers
In addition to reducing the number of MPs, Conservatives would reduce the number of government ministers to create a smaller government. We propose a 20 per cent reduction in the number of ministers to reflect the reduction in the size of the Commons.
The Ministerial and Other Salaries Act 1975 (as amended) limits the number of ministerial salaries that can be paid at any one time to 109, although unpaid ministers may be appointed. There is also a limit of 95 on the number of members of the House of Commons who can be ministers at any one time. This does not include unpaid Parliamentary Private Secretaries (PPSs).
Under Labour, the number of ministers and particularly the number of PPSs has soared. The sheer size of the ‘payroll vote’ has started to reduce the effectiveness of Parliamentary scrutiny.
Conservatives’ Smaller Government Bill would ensure that the number of those holding ministerial office by a fifth, by:
– Lowering the limit on the number of Ministers in the Commons and the Lords to a total of 100; and
– Limiting the number of PPSs to 45.
This would generate a small saving (approximately £1 million) in ministerial salaries.
4. Fewer Special Advisers
Since 1997, the relationship between ministers and civil servants has changed more dramatically than at any time since the Northcote-Trevelyan reforms of the 19th Century. Indeed, many of the changes have reversed the whole thrust of those reforms, by replacing the idea of non-partisan appointments on merit with an increasingly powerful coterie of officials who owe their place solely to their links with the Labour Party.
A series of controversial incidents involving special advisers (Jo Moore, Charlie Wheelan, Dan Corry, Alistair Campbell) has exposed how the changes in their number and role has had a corrupting influence on the workings of government.
Under Labour, the number of special advisers has increased from 38 to 76, and their cost to the taxpayer increased from £1.8 million in 1996-97 to £5.3 million in 2003-04.
One of the first acts of an incoming Conservative Government will be to cut the number of special advisers by more than 20 per cent. In addition we would introduce a Civil Service Bill, stronger than the draft Bill recently published by the Government. The Bill would:
– Introduce a legislative provision making it unlawful for anyone other than a Minster of the Crown or a more senior civil servant to give instructions to a career civil servant in the execution of their duties;
– Establish a statutory cap on numbers of special advisers, set at 56; and
– Write the Code of Conduct for Special Advisers into statute, and tighten the Code to prevent the bullying and victimisation of civil servants.
This would also generate a small £1 million saving in special advisers’ costs.
5. Smaller Government
These proposals for smaller government go hand in hand with our existing ledges to scale down other tiers of administration – such as abolishing Labour’s unwanted regional chambers and regional housing boards, and reducing the size and scope of Whitehall departments.
If you would like to comment on this policy statement, please send your comments to:
Oliver Heald MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs
c/o Conservative Party
25 Victoria Street
I fully back David Cameron’s announcement of a tough new approach on Allowances. We are right to be apologising to the public. I am a supporter of reform of MPs’ Allowances and have spoken in the House of Commons about this in the past. I was involved in making the decision to start publishing information on Allowances and I support independent external audit and increased transparency. Last year I backed David when he asked us to volunteer much greater information and I already have a link to the currently published information under “Oliver” on my web-site, http://www.oliverhealdmp.com.
I believe the current system needs a complete overhaul by an outside body and I support the wide-ranging review now being undertaken by the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
I will be following the new Cameron Rules and putting up my next claim for Additional Costs Allowance on line. I am also giving the new Cameron Review Body all the old claim forms and receipts, which the House authorities have sent me. The Review Body will check to see if they think any of my claims are wrong or unethical and whether I should pay back anything. I will follow their ruling.
The difficulty in publishing the bundles of documents as they stand is that they contain numerous pieces of genuinely private information such as staff addresses, bank details and the like. These documents have not been fully “redacted”, as they will be for publication. The House authorities are working hard on this and are very aware of the need to publish the details for all MPs as soon as possible. They have brought the date forward from mid-July and now hope to be ready in June.
I claim the allowance to pay for accommodation in London when I am there for Parliamentary work. I believe this is necessary. My main home has been and is in Royston 48 miles from London. The House of Commons now usually sits to at least 10.30pm on Mondays and Tuesdays; on Wednesdays to at least 7.30pm and to at least 6.30pm on Thursdays. The House may sit later on Treasury business or with Government support. I am on a number of Parliamentary Committees and have morning meetings at 9am. The 11.15pm train from London arrives in Royston after midnight and it would be necessary to take a train before 8am the next morning. Although it might have been possible to commute on a short term basis, I believe this would not have been sustainable over my 17 years in Parliament.
From 1992 to 2001 I rented a room in London. In 2001 I bought a studio flat in Lambeth and in 2003 I moved to a 2 bed flat in Lambeth. I paid Capital Gains’ Tax on the profit of £15,000 at 40 per cent. I claim Allowance for mortgage interest (of course, I paid the deposit and capital repayments) and for household costs and necessary repairs. I have never had a flat screen TV. I have never “flipped” my main home designation.
I claim the Office Costs Allowance to pay for equipment and materials for constituency casework.
I claim Mileage Allowance for my constituency work. The North East Herts constituency is one of the largest in the Home Counties and by far the largest in Hertfordshire at 181 square miles.
Many people were worried – as I was – that the Government motion to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act might be forced through by Government Whips, as threatened. The High Court has ordered certain information to be published and that is what must happen. It would be wrong for Parliament to act retrospectively to stop this. Of course, publishing 1.2 million records is a task and will cost £2 million, but I think the Courts must be respected. I do wonder if there might not be a better simpler system for MPs’ Pay and Allowances and for making the details public.
I was glad the Government backed down in the face of opposition from all parts of the House and in the country.
But as I pointed out in the debate (click here to see the Hansard), one good thing is that there will now be proper audit with an external element to check the accuracy of MPs’ claims and this is a step forward.
I am a member of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which upholds the Seven Principles for Public Life established when the Committee was chaired by Lord Nolan: Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership. I was glad to have the chance to make the point in yesterday’s debate on new rules on Members of Parliaments’ allowances that MPs must set an example and follow these high standards.
Our Committee will be looking at the latest changes to the rules in February and considering whether an Inquiry is needed into the whole Pay and Allowances’ System to ensure that the Seven Principles are met. The advantage would be that our Committee is made up of ten independent individuals from many walks of life – with only three political appointees – and could give a fresh insight. The public might also find the system more worthy of respect if independently proposed and approved. It will be an interesting discussion. Parliament is sovereign and will ultimately decide the matter, but the Scottish Parliament did find an independent report on this helpful in making their decisions on their structure of Pay and Allowances for MSPs.