David Cameron has risked stoking the row over MPs’ expenses by condemning the new tougher regime run by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA).
The Prime Minister branded the watchdog’s rules “anti-family” and warned that it must improve by April or he would force changes.
The comments appeared to soothe Tory backbenchers who have been up in arms over IPSA’s new system.
However, they are likely to prove controversial after the National Audit Office (NAO) embarrassed the House of Commons again by refusing to give a clean bill of health to its 2009-10 accounts.
Amyas Morse, the head of the NAO, said he could not confirm the validity of £13.9 million of claims because he was unable to inspect supporting documentation. The cash was claimed for and paid out mainly in the period between the eruption of the expenses scandal in May 2009 and this year’s general election.
The Commons Members’ Estimate Committee, which oversees House finances, admitted “checks and balances were not adequate”. Campaigners said the disclosures were further proof that MPs remained out of touch with the electorate.
The Prime Minister told the 1922 Committee meeting he “recognised that (IPSA) has caused a lot of pain and difficulty”, and criticised the new arrangements. “It is anti-family and it is not acceptable,” he said. According to aides, Mr Cameron said a “better system” needs to be in place by April 1, otherwise it “would be changed”. A spokeswoman for the premier played down the comments afterwards, stressing that Mr Cameron was highlighting issues such as restrictions on MPs using expenses to transport their children to and from the constituency.
Any reforms to be imposed after April were “hypothetical and a long way off”. They would also need to be “acceptable to the public”, and not increase the overall cost of the expenses system above its current level, the spokeswoman said.
An IPSA spokesman said: “IPSA brought an end to the discredited system of the last Parliament. We introduced independent regulation, ending centuries of self regulation by MPs and the House, we introduced clear new rules and independent verification of each claim made by an MP and we will proactively publish all of these claims.
“These are the steps the public and Parliament demanded in the wake of the expenses scandal. From day one, we said we would review the rules each year and in January we will do just that. We will host a public consultation to give all interested parties a chance to have their say on the rules.”