Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority
Asked if the Prime Minister agreed with Sir George Young’s comments about the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA), the Prime Minister’s Spokesman (PMS) said that Sir George Young was acting in a particular capacity. As he said in his evidence, he was a responding as a statutory consultee under Section 5 of the Parliamentary Standards Act, which set out that IPSA was obliged to consult the Leader of the House of Commons (as the person who reflected the views of the House). The evidence he published today reflected the views of MPs from all sides of the House.
The PMS went on to say that the Prime Minister had said in the past that he didn’t think that the current system was working. IPSA was costing £6million a year to administer the expenses of 650 people, which was clearly expensive. There had been lots of problems and the Prime Minister felt that they needed to be sorted out, and he thought it was right that Sir George Young had gone through the process of collecting the views of MPs.
Put that the Prime Minister had said that there needed to be changes at IPSA by 1 April this year, the PMS said that the deadline had been set by the House: the consultation from IPSA was in response to MP’s view.
Put that Sir George Young’s report was strongly worded, the PMS said that Sir George Young set out the principles that applied. He continued to support the principles of independent regulation and transparency, and was clear that there should be no going back to a system that failed to meet the three tests of building public confidence, establishing greater transparency, and ensuring value for money. He also said that the system should continue to be subjected to rigorous and independent scrutiny, including scrutiny by the public.
The system at the moment was bureaucratic and cost a lot of money, and these problems needed to be addressed. It was important to remember that when IPSA was set up it was done so quite rapidly following the expenses scandal.
Put that Sir George Young went even further than that by saying that IPSA was failing in every sense of the three tests mentioned, the PMS said that Sir George Young did say that, and went on to say that it was distracting, and at worst impeding MPs from doing their jobs. It could also be deterring people from less affluent backgrounds from becoming MPs. These points reflected the feelings from MPs on all sides of the House.
Asked if the Prime Minister was confident that things would change, the PMS said that it was not for us to pre-empt the process. There was an IPSA consultation under way and Sir George Young had today given evidence that reflected the House’s views.
Asked if there was concern that the public could see this as the Government putting pressure on an independent body, the PMS said that the process was independent, and we supported the principle that there should be independent regulation. The system was originally set up because people had lost confidence in the previous system, and those principles of independence and scrutiny remained.
Asked if, following on from this morning’s EU5 statement on Egypt, there had been a change in our position, the PMS said that it was in line with what we had been saying yesterday.
Asked why the message hadn’t changed when the situation in Egypt had changed, the PMS said that the statement from the EU5 was in line with what we had been saying yesterday. Our view was that what we saw yesterday and overnight was very concerning, and that we condemned any violence unreservedly. As the Prime Minister said yesterday, if as some reports suggested the regime had been sponsoring violence it would be completely unacceptable.
Asked if there had been any discussions about sanctions, the PMS said that that was not something that was currently on the table. We needed to see an orderly transition to a broad-based government, and a road map needed to be set out for that process.
Asked why the UK Government was sending a second plane to Egypt, the PMS said that the position remained the same as yesterday: we sent the second plane, as we had done the first, as a sensible contingency to ensure there was sufficient capacity for people to leave the country if they wanted to.
Asked what was happening to Embassy staff, the PMS said that standard Foreign Office practice was that dependents and non-essential Embassy staff should follow their own travel advice.
Asked what could be done if nothing changed, the PMS said that we would continue to use all channels available to bring pressure to bear on the regime. We were concerned about what we had seen overnight and how things were developing.
Asked if we would have to insist that President Mubarak stood down, the PMS said that we were not going to get into a position where we were telling different countries who their leaders should be. However, we had been very clear that we needed to see the process of transition to a broad-based government begin.