Expenses watchdog urges relying on MPs' principles

Tight expenses rules for MPs should be abandoned in favour of a set of "principles" and scrutiny by voters, the watchdog in charge of the regime suggested yesterday.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) said a looser system where politicians took responsibility for justifying their spending to the public would be "simpler" and provide "value for money".

The prospect of a gradual shift could help to soothe MPs who are furious over the bureaucracy and cost cutting imposed in the wake of the expenses scandal that rocked Westminster.

Last month Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the rules as "anti-family" and warned that they had to change, while backbenchers have been openly calling for the watchdog's chairman Sir Ian Kennedy to quit.

However, there is bound to be concern at the idea of easing restrictions, with research suggesting that only a third of the public trust MPs to file legitimate claims.

A public consultation published by Ipsa floated a number of improvements to the existing scheme, including allowing scores of outer London MPs to claim for running second homes again.

The document suggested funding more travel for MPs' families and increasing the 130-a-night limit on hotels.

But it also raised the prospect that a less rigid system could be introduced in the longer term, with MPs "justifying their own decisions".

Instead of detailed rules, there would be "an expenses scheme based more on a set of principles which do not attempt to cover every eventuality".

"It will need a decision that a system that is easy to understand is preferable to a larger rule book which seeks certainty but necessarily falls short of delivering it," the consultation said.

"It will also require an agreement by MPs that they will take greater responsibility for their claims within the general framework of principles and the agreed budgets."

In his foreword to the document, Sir Ian highlighted the "ever-increasing demand for detailed advice and interpretation of detailed rules and guidance".

"The cost to the taxpayer is considerable," he wrote. "We are clear that the model of how we do business must evolve."

Backbenchers renewed their attack on the watchdog as the six-week consultation was launched yesterday morning.

Liberal Democrat Bob Russell said the organisation was the worst he had dealt with in 40 years in public life, while Tory Roger Gale said the chairman should consider resigning.

But Sir Ian dismissed the idea of quitting, suggesting politicians were just having trouble accepting the "new world".

"Ipsa is doing the job Parliament asked it to do," he said. "We are here for the long haul. There's not an immediate quick fix that's possible."

Leader of the House of Commons Sir George Young welcomed the "wide-ranging review".