Yesterday the Commons voted to limit annual spending on furnishings to £2,400 but Ann Widdecombe MP warned her colleagues against ‘crawling on their bellies’ in the face of "malicious" attacks from the media.
Ann Widdecombe: "Both Front Benches remind me of those Governments who hold referendums, and when their citizens give them an answer they do not like, hold them again. We should have faced the fact that the House made clear its view on the so-called John Lewis list, and we should have found ways of making it transparent, rather than trying to abolish it altogether. The contributions made by Members on both sides of the House today have been largely conditioned by the mischievous and malicious onslaught of the media and the public prints, not just over the past few weeks but over the past few months. Our response to that should not be to crawl on our bellies, but robustly to defend what is right. Yes, it is right that we should have better reporting and more transparency, but it is not right that we should make it impossible for hon. Members to carry out their duties… We should have had the guts to defend ourselves, just as we should have the guts to do so when the press talk about our lavish perks and include our secretaries. There have been some hon. Members for whom their secretary has been a perk, but precious few of them. Such is the view out there that Adam Boulton, who is supposed to be politically wise, actually stated on his programme as though it were a matter of fact that our secretarial allowances are paid directly into our bank accounts… I, like most hon. Members, do not benefit from one penny of my secretary’s or researcher’s salaries, or from one penny of what goes on computers, stationery and postage. We do not benefit, and to have that portrayed as a perk is ridiculous. If there is one thing that we should have done it is to abolish the word “allowance” and to substitute the word “reimbursement”, and to have that which is centrally provided not counted as our personal allowances."
"…We should stop crawling before this press onslaught. Yes, there have been abuses. Do we blame all general practitioners for Harold Shipman? Do we say that because a handful of teachers have been convicted of paedophilia, all teachers are bad, and that because more than a handful of accountants are crooks, all accountants are bad? As for lawyers, I will not even go there. The answer is no. Therefore, although there have been and always will be some people in Parliament who are not as straight as they should be, we should not allow ourselves to be tarred by that. We deserve to be paid properly, we deserve to be reimbursed for reasonable expenses incurred, and we deserve to be allowed to do our jobs properly. If we do not do that, one of two types of people will come into the House: those who can afford not to be recompensed and those whose pay is so low that to them it all looks like something very grand. The vast ranks in between—the professionals, those who are paid a reasonable but not excessive amount—will not come to this place, and the press and the media at the moment are doing their level best to ensure that Parliaments of the future will be composed of people of substantially lower quality than Parliaments of the past."
This section is also interesting, in which Douglas Hogg MP questions the Conservative Party’s decision to use an Opposition Day debate for Members’ Allowances:
"Historically, this matter has been for the House, not for whipped party votes. Therefore I have difficulty in understanding why it is being debated on the Supply day. Incidentally, as we do not live in unfurnished boxes, why should there be a prohibition on reimbursement for furniture and household goods? Provided that it is modest, transparent and audited, what is the objection?"
Theresa May MP: "My right hon. and learned Friend mentioned whipped votes on this issue; I merely point him to the fact that it is because the Government were unwilling to stand by the Prime Minister’s undertaking to support the Members Estimate Committee report—they failed to whip the votes—that the House is in this position today."
Simon Hughes MP, Liberal Democrat, then intervenes on Mrs May: "The thrust and direction of what the right hon. Lady is saying has warm support from the Liberal Democrat Benches. However, she must accept that we would not be in the mess that we are in today if 21 Conservative Members of Parliament had not voted against openness and transparency, rather than in favour of it. If they had voted with her, what she and I want would have gone through on 3 July."
Mrs May: "I note the hon. Gentleman’s support for the general thrust of what I am saying, but I merely say this to him. The House would not be in this position today if the 29 Liberal Democrat Members who stayed away had turned up to vote on 3 July. They included the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg), who, significantly, failed to show leadership on the MEC report."