Clause 10 - Expenses of elected representatives

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 16 May 2013.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Cathy Jamieson Cathy Jamieson Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I do not intend to detain the Committee for too long on this clause. I shall start by referring to my register of interests as a former Member of the Scottish Parliament, because clause 10 introduces a new income tax exemption for certain travel expenses paid or reimbursed to MSPs, Members of the National Assembly for Wales and Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Essentially, it will maintain the tax treatment that applies to similar expenses paid or reimbursed to Members of the UK Parliament under a long-standing arrangement.

It is important that the clause correctly formalises some of the long-standing concessionary arrangements regarding the tax treatment of travel expenses paid to Members of the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In doing so, it brings the tax treatment of such Members’ expenses broadly into line with ours in the UK Parliament. It is also important to note that the tax rules recognise the requirement of elected representatives around the various parts of the UK to undertake work-related travel both in their constituencies and to their respective Parliament or Assembly.

I note that, following the creation of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority and the introduction of the new MPs’ expenses scheme, legislation was enacted in the Finance Act 2010 to formalise aspects of those concessions as they previously applied to MPs here in Westminster. Somehow, legislation was not introduced for Members of the devolved Administrations at the same time, because at that time the new allowance schemes were not all in place. The schemes are now in place, so it is right that the changes proposed in the clause provide statutory exemptions for certain relevant UK travel expenses.

We all know that elected representatives still have some way to go before they fully regain the public’s trust following some of the difficulties there have been about MPs expenses. Formalising some of the long-standing arrangements and improving transparency, as these measures propose, will go some way towards contributing to that trust.

I may be stating the obvious, but it is important for Members representing their communities to be able to come to Parliament from a wide variety of backgrounds and economic circumstances. The ability to claim travel expenses in order to do the job on behalf of constituents  is a fair and necessary tool if becoming an elected representative is to be accessible to people from all walks of life. The measures assist that cause by exempting from income tax journeys that are necessary for the performance of a Member’s duties and also, when a Member shares caring responsibilities with a spouse or partner, journeys made by that spouse or partner between the constituency or particular nation of the UK and the Member’s parliamentary home.

I presume that the Minister is going to give us some further information and confirm my understanding of what the clause does. In doing so, will he give us examples of circumstances in which, at some future stage, he may feel that he needs to amend by order the definition of caring responsibilities as proposed in the Bill? That was the only query that I had at this point.

Photo of Sajid Javid Sajid Javid The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Lady for her support for the clause. She speaks with experience as a former MSP. Clause 10 provides for the income tax treatment of certain expenses paid or reimbursed to Members of the devolved Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland under their respective expenses schemes. For the main part, the changes introduced by the provisions continue the long-standing concessionary tax treatment that previously applied to similar expenses. They are necessary to reflect the fact that HM Revenue and Customs can no longer apply concessionary treatment and must instead either withdraw or codify all such arrangements.

As with Members of this House, a Member of the devolved Administrations has to perform duties in both their constituency or region and their Parliament or Assembly. The exemptions introduced in the clause are therefore required in order for those Members to carry out their parliamentary or Assembly functions effectively.

The clause codifies elements of the long-standing concessionary tax treatment that has been applied to certain UK travel expenses because Members are required to carry out their duties in both their constituencies and in their Parliament or Assembly. However, while the concessionary treatment applied to all travel within a Member’s constituency, the clause does not allow tax relief for journeys between a Member’s home and their main constituency office.

That is in line with the treatment both of Members of this House and ordinary employees for whom there is no tax relief available for ordinary commuting. That restriction will apply only to journeys to a Member’s main office. That ensures that Members who represent large constituencies, such as that of my hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border or hon. Members from Scottish constituencies, are not unfairly disadvantaged simply because they need more than one office to serve their constituents effectively.

The clause also introduces a new statutory exemption for reimbursed travel expenses incurred by a spouse or partner who shares caring responsibilities with the Member for travel between the constituency home and the Member’s parliamentary home. That is also in line with the treatment for Members of this House. The hon. Lady asked about caring responsibilities and whether the Government had plans to broaden the definition. I am not aware of any plans, but she makes a good point and I will consider it further.

In conclusion, the changes introduced by the clause place the tax treatment of travel expenses received by Members of the devolved Administrations on a statutory footing and bring them more broadly into line with the treatment of travel expenses for Members of this House.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.