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Has the clampdown on MPs' expenses gone too far?

Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority

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The long list of rejected expenses claims from MPs that was published today by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) makes fascinating reading. It also provoked me to feel some sympathy for MPs trying to do a decent job and made me wonder at the huge cost of administering this new system.

I think that MPs from all parties were being very mild in their criticism of IPSA , its huge bureaucracy and outrageous costs when they debated the new expenses system this morning. It was when I saw that a claim for a few pounds for buying lunch for an intern was rejected that I began to sit up and wonder whether the pendulum hadn't swung a long way too far after the scandal-ridden farce that went on in previous Parliaments. I wondered how I would feel if such a claim was rejected - pretty cross is the answer. There are plenty of other claims which have been rejected which in most private businesses would have been paid. There are probably many more that would never had been submitted if the rules (which I have tried reading on IPSA's wesbite) were clearer.

It is all too easy to say that MPs have brought this on themselves, a rather flimsy argument that doesn't really acknowledge that 100s of new MPs were elected last May and cannot be blamed for the appalling abuses of the previous system. It also glosses over the very serious point that Sir George Young, Leader of the House, made this morning about the new system driving people of modest means away from Parliament. I am not attempting to justify the threadbare old system, even less some of those who seriously and deliberately abused it but it does look as if we have gone too far the other way.

Not only do the rules need looking at but the cost of the system to administer them does too. As I understand it, IPSA costs over £6m a year to run an expenses system for 650 MPs and about 1500 Peers. I think most boards of directors in the private sector would be beating the table with rage if they found they were saddled with an expenses system that cost that much to run for that many staff. There has to be a better way that is fairer, more efficient and alot cheaper.

• Apologies for the longer than usual gap between posts. This is a combination of additional responsibilities at Incisive Media (for our TV studios) and exasperation at the number of spam comments that suddenly hit this blog like a tidal wave: 245 on one Saturday afternoon alone! 
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