Mr. Chair, thank you for inviting me to participate in your examination of the administrative oversight systems, policies, and practices of the House of Commons, including the role of the Board of Internal Economy. With me today is Clyde MacLellan, Assistant Auditor General.
I'm pleased that the House of Commons and this committee wish to explore the practices of provincial and territorial legislatures and other Westminster-style parliaments with respect to administrative oversight; to consider modifications to the roles of institutions, such as the Office of the Auditor General in that oversight; and to propose any other necessary modifications to the administrative policies and practices of the House of Commons.
I would like to start by mentioning a few broad principles that I think the committee could consider during its deliberations. Before this meeting, I provided the clerk of the committee with a short paper that elaborates on these principles. I would also refer the committee to our June 2012 Report on the Administration of the House of Commons of Canada. In this June 2012 audit report, we mentioned that demands have been increasing for political and government representatives to be held accountable for their use of public funds.
In particular, we noted that members of Parliament hold positions of trust and have responsibilities to their specific constituents and to Canadians in general that are considerable. In my opinion there are three fundamental elements that contribute to the fulfilment of these responsibilities. They are transparency, accountability, and good governance.
I believe that providing detailed public disclosure of members' expenses, and having clear policies and processes for those expenses, establishes an environment of transparency, and transparency is the foundation of accountability.
In my opinion, governance can be strengthened by having an independent body that would either advise the Board of Internal Economy or be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements. Regardless of the role of such a body, it is important that Canadians are confident that its membership is independent and that the members have been chosen in a non-partisan manner.
I also believe that independent comprehensive audits, including financial statement audits, compliance audits, and performance audits, would not only strengthen members' accountability but would also enhance the public's confidence in the governance mechanisms of the House of Commons.
The committee may therefore wish to consider whether the mandate of the Office of the Auditor General should be amended to include this role. The right to conduct such audits, at the discretion of the Auditor General, should be clearly described in statute. Because we regularly conduct all of these types of audits, the Office of the Auditor General has a unique ability to contribute, and we are ready and willing to take on this role.
Canadians expect members of Parliament to spend the moneys they receive for the functions of their office in an ethical and prudent manner and for approved purposes. Members are accountable to one another in the House of Commons and to the public for their actions. It is their responsibility to carry out their assigned mandate in light of these expectations. I therefore believe that the changes the committee will decide to make, while respecting the many unique aspects of the institutions, need to be significant enough that a reasonable person with a healthy degree of skepticism would be satisfied that the rules are being consistently applied and sufficiently monitored.
In conclusion, members of Parliament must be properly supported in order to carry out their duties effectively. Refining the mechanisms that promote transparency, accountability, and good governance will enable members to fulfill their roles and responsibilities and meet the expectations of Canadians.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening statement. We would be pleased to answer any questions that the committee may have.
Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for being here today.
I guess I want to start off with, if we can, a comparison between the oversight provisions imposed upon the House of Commons versus those of the Senate. Obviously, most Canadians over the last several months have heard, read about, and probably been concerned about some of the controversy that we've seen in the Senate with some of the expenses being claimed by senators, which, at least on the surface, appear to be claims that should not have been made and certainly should not have been paid.
I wonder if you would, for the benefit of this committee and perhaps anyone else who may be listening, contrast the oversight provisions upon members of the House of Commons versus the oversight provisions for members of the Senate, specifically for travel and hospitality. In other words, what documentation is required for travel and hospitality claims made by members of Parliament versus the documentation required with claims for travel and hospitality by senators?
Thank you, Mr. Auditor General.
Just as the Auditor General indicated, in order to try to answer this question I have to relate back to the audits we did in 2012 on both institutions, keeping in mind that those were audits of the administration and not necessarily the governance regime of both chambers. It's very clear in those audits that we didn't audit the Board of Internal Economy in the case of the House, or the Standing Committee on Internal Economy in the case of the Senate.
That said, we did have an opportunity to interact with how the administration plays its role in the oversight of expenditures, and what other types of bodies are present. That may be able to help in that regard.
My perception on that would be that there are a lot of similarities, perhaps more than there are differences. In thinking about that type of question earlier this morning, one of the big issues I recall from those two particular audits was the nature of documentation that was present in the case of the Senate with respect to our being able to determine whether or not the expenses were incurred for the purposes intended.
If you go back to the two different reports, we provided tables in those documents about the percentage of compliance with regard to our ability to determine whether or not those expenses met their intended purposes. That's largely for purposes of the role of members, in the case of this chamber, and in the case of senators in the case of the red chamber.
The difference is that when we did that audit, in about 98.5% of the transactions we looked at we were able to conclude that they met that condition. In the case of the Senate, it dropped down to about 94.8%. That had a lot to do with the way in which documentation was kept vis-à-vis the role of the administration and individual senators, an issue that we didn't really encounter here.
As it relates to policies and procedures, at a very macro level there were quite a bit of similarities and what you would expect to see in terms of proper authorization, proper documentation being required, proper approvals being necessary, and reviews by the administration. In both cases I think we got lots of comments that many members and many senators felt they were under a lot of scrutiny by the administration on how the expenses were being incurred. Yet we still found instances where the documentation was not sufficient in both cases, but we had a bigger struggle with that in the case of the Senate administration, which is why we made very specific recommendations in that report about that subject.
Both groups have a committee. Here, the Board of Internal Economy, and there it's the Standing Committee on Internal Economy. At a macro level there are a lot of similarities in terms of the expectations, roles, and responsibilities of both of those organizations from a governance perspective. We looked at the roles of internal audit as being important in providing some kind of oversight to assist the particular boards, and we made recommendations in both cases.
I hope that helps a little bit in giving you some clarity on those. But I would say that at a macro level they're very similar in the details, and a little bit of a difference that was sufficient for the nature of the recommendations we made.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.
I thank you, Mr. Ferguson and Mr. MacLellan. Your comments are very important for our report.
We have just come back from a constituency break week. I've been in my riding, which I think is similar to other ridings across the country. Canadians are very concerned about the Senate spending scandals and are concerned about what they have seen from both Conservative and Liberal senators and how they have acted. There is some real concern out in the public mind right across the country that enough is enough. We really need to put in place a really transparent regime.
So the NDP brought forward their motion in June, and happily we were able to get the support of other parties to move towards ending the self-policing regime that exists, the Board of Internal Economy, which you made reference to.
I noticed in your presentation that you referenced very clearly the point that governance could be strengthened by either having an independent body that would advise the board, or that this independent body could be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements.
My question to you is very simple. I think in the public's mind they want an end to self-policing. They want an end to this perception that the MPs are policing themselves. What they would like to see is an independent body they can have confidence in.
You provide two doors. Is your preference that this independent governance, this independent body, be given the responsibility for all matters related to members' expenses and entitlements? Do you not feel that is an important way of re-establishing the public trust that I think has been shattered with the Senate spending scandals?
Certainly, what we have done, Mr. Chair, is to indicate that we believe that some sort of independent oversight is important. We have indicated it could be advisory or it could be authoritative. Certainly, my preference would always be that it have some sort of authority, but that's not my decision to make. That's a decision for the committee to recommend.
Again, I think, in general—and I tried to make the comment in the opening statement—at the end of the day what's important is that whatever change is put in place is going to be a change that a reasonable, independent person harbouring a certain level of skepticism will believe has been sufficient, so they can be confident that the rules and expenses are being appropriately monitored.
I think the other thing that is important to remember is probably that the ground of this type of situation always shifts so that what people believe to be perhaps acceptable right now may not be what people perceive to be acceptable sometime in the future. So I think it's also important there be some mechanism to make sure that's all being monitored. And on that mechanism, again there should be some component that is independent or coming from the outside. My preference would be that it have a certain level of authority, but it could be advisory as well.
Our New Democratic friend was starting to play a childish game. Maybe the NDP should just take the initiative and do what the Liberals and the Conservatives are saying, which is to move forward and say that we're prepared to provide proactive disclosure.
Anyway, it is about public trust. Politicians can only dream about having the type of public trust, Mr. Ferguson, that Canadians have in the Auditor General's office.
What I have found is that quite often when we find ourselves in trouble, because of the way affairs have been managed, one of the offices we always turn to is the Auditor General's office. Once again, in the last number of months, we find ourselves in a situation where we're turning to the Auditor General's office to get some assistance, some direction.
With respect to the idea that we need to undertake performance audits for the House of Commons administration, do you have any short thoughts you could share with us on performance audits, or the benefits of such audits?
In my opening statement, I identified three types of audits: financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits. The first message is that not all audits are the same. That's important for everybody to understand.
As to a performance audit of the administration, that's what we did in 2012. We did an audit of the administration of the House and an audit of the administration of the Senate.
The purpose of these audits is to look at whether the administration is performing its function in an economical and efficient manner, looking at whether all of the support functions are operating the way they should.
I know that in the corporate world, 100% is a pretty scarce thing to find in an audit. That's why you have an audit, to find shortcomings and to correct things.
With ours, I don't hear a great deal from the corporate world demanding more transparency. Where I hear the complaints come from is inside the House and from the press. The corporate world seems to have an understanding that we're fairly limited in our budgets to start with. Each member's budget is something of the same nature, and you have to take into account the salaries and the rent from your constituencies. There's very little in there that is available for a member. There are some areas, but most of it is covered pretty well. Certainly, my experience with the administration is that they're very tight on mileage. You have to produce the information for them on travel.
I hate the thought that we have a partisan game going on trying to depict this whole area as being one that's kept under wraps. For instance, the Clerk of the House testified that if the board meetings were held in public, the real discussions regarding expenses would then be forced underground, creating a new problem.
I think what she was trying to tell us is that if you do them in public there's going to be political grandstanding, so the real negotiations would happen outside in the halls. Would you concur with that?
In my observations in the 2012 report, when I talked about compliance, this referred to examining documents, including receipts tabled by parliamentarians for a certain activity, in order to ensure that rules were being respected. That is exactly the matter we examined. We gave a 94% compliance rating for the Senate. We found that the expenses related to activities were justified and in compliance with the rules. However, in certain cases, it was difficult to come to a conclusion, either because the documents were not provided, or because some information was not in the receipts, such as the description of the purpose of a meeting, or because a reply was recorded, etc.
Thank you very much, Chair.
The real reason the committee is undertaking this study, frankly, is to see whether the current system works, whether it can be improved, or whether it should just be replaced.
Based on what you saw during your audit in 2012, were there any of what we and the general public would consider to be egregious examples of misspending by members of Parliament? We all know what happened in the U.K. with their expenses scandals there, with some members claiming money to build a moat around their castle. We've seen examples, in the U.K. and in Atlantic Canada, where members were using expense money, taxpayers' dollars, to furnish their own homes with electronics or television sets or computers, that type of thing.
In your audit, with the 1.5% non-compliance, did you find any example that you would consider to be as egregious as the examples I've just given you, or would they have been of a more minor nature? By that I mean, would they be mistakes made either inadvertently or administratively that could be corrected?
Were there any specific examples you could point to that would demonstrate that members of Parliament are misusing or abusing their expense money?
Auditor General, your suggestions and observations are very relevant. Not that long ago, MPs and political parties wanted to make all decisions regarding the administration of their expenses behind closed door. Indeed, in 2010, when your predecessor, Ms. Fraser, asked to do an audit, the Bloc Québécois was the only party that accepted right away to divulge all of its expenses and be as transparent as possible. We can see that things evolved because I think that the population, as you said so well, no longer accepts that expenses be kept secret, since we are talking about taxpayers' money, their money. We are headed in the right direction.
However, I have questions on how the transparent governance you allude to would function. Is it really necessary to create another organization? We are already sending of all our invoices and supporting documents to the controller's office. Would it be possible to be totally transparent and divulge as much of this information as possible, while allowing the Office of the Auditor General to have the legal right to perform audits, either once a year or twice a year, with the necessary means? I am wondering about this hybrid system to provide greater transparency. Currently, we are divulging information by work station and this is on the Internet. That is already an improvement compared to what used to be done, but it seems to me that we can still improve this by providing more details and by allowing you to perform audits. A statutory report would really allow for recommendations and modifications, if need be, on certain practices that may still need to be improved.
The model we are suggesting incorporates two aspects on the governance side. One is the aspect of independent audit. The other is the aspect of having some sort of independent body as well to help oversee the process.
I would say that model is very much the same type you would see in a large crown corporation or in any other large corporation where, for example, you would have an audit committee. That would be a committee that we as auditors could interact with to make sure we're sending messages and they understand the messages, and they could help whatever board is responsible to figure out how to manage these types of expenses.
The role of the independent body would be to help make sure that when we came in, our audit wouldn't find anything. That's where you want to be. You don't want to be in a situation where things are being processed and then you are relying on the audit to find things. You want to be in a position where the audit is really confirming that things are operating properly. That's why we think the system would be better if there were an independent advisory body on the side, processing things before the audit happened. So the two would be integral parts of improving governance.
Thank you, Mr. Ferguson, for coming and also for your brief. Along with your remarks the brief is very helpful. It's essentially in accord with the NDP's motion to replace the Board of Internal Economy with some form of independent body, but also to draw from comparative experience on the whole transparency front and address the question of how we go about providing adequate disclosure of MPs' expenses.
The Scottish and the Alberta models are mentioned specifically in your brief, and they're both of great interest to us. As I understand them, they go much further than the much vaunted, proactive efforts of one of the parties around this table, well beyond hospitality and travel, and they include supporting documentation. Have you had a chance to look at the Alberta system, which you don't directly recommend but you suggest we look at closely? Would you recommend that as a system that would work here?
One minute? Thank you, Chair.
Mr. Ferguson, it's good to be with you in a different circumstance.
I have two quick things, Chair.
One is that I think it's pretty clear, at least from the Auditor General—please correct me if I'm misrepresenting your comments—that his comments very much underscore the idea of an independent body, that we need to keep going in that direction. I'm not seeing anything or hearing from anybody who is saying that we don't need to or that it's a bad idea. To hear that from our Auditor General I think is the greatest endorsement you could have.
The last thing I want to mention, Chair, in my own right as chair of the public accounts committee, which is responsible for all of the audits, working with the Auditor General on the audits that are done, is that these audits are things for the Canadian people. This has nothing to do, really, with internal government per se, and therefore in no way should we nickel or dime the Auditor General's budget. Whatever work we're asking his office to do beyond what he's currently doing, given the importance of the work he does and this, there should clearly be a top-up—separate money—for that.
We're probably talking, I don't know.... I won't throw out a number, but it will be a lot smaller than most items we deal with. But given its importance, I urge this committee not to consider asking the AG to do more with less. If we want them to do more, let's make sure they have the money to do it.
This is an important topic we're discussing today, no question. Obviously transparency and accountability are very important topics. That's why we as a Conservative government have chosen to voluntarily disclose some of our expenses. Give credit to the Liberal Party for that as well. It's unfortunate that not all parties have followed that lead, but certainly it is important that we do look at this.
Having said that, I have some information here from when we heard from the clerk, Audrey O'Brien, about the current system. I just want to just go through that.
You talked about the 98.5% compliance that you saw. I know you've had a number of questions about this already, and have certainly indicated that it seems to compare quite favourably with other corporate audits or those kind of things that you've been a part of.
Having said that, Ms. O'Brien indicated to us that 21 staff are involved now in adjudicating members' expense claims, which seems to be a significant amount of resources put towards that to ensure it's done right and done thoroughly. She indicated that there were about 70,000 member payments on average in the fiscal year, and that in an average year, they also received about 20,000 calls or e-mails from members' offices. It obviously indicates there is a concerted effort on the part of members, or I'm sure at least the vast majority of members, to ensure that they're complying and that they're being thorough and doing a good job of reporting the expenses as they should be reported.
She also indicated that 4,365 regret letters were sent on average in a year to members advising about some modification that was made to an amount claimed, which obviously indicates they're doing a pretty thorough job of examining those claims.
I'll use myself as an example. Certainly we are very diligent. I have a great staff member who has a lot experience on the Hill who's very helpful in making sure my claims are done right. Of course, I'm also accused by my staff of being a bit of a micro-manager. I always ensure that I've combed through them thoroughly myself as well.
One thing I will admit is that my signature is fairly erratic, and it doesn't often look the same from one day to the next. A number of times they've come back and questioned the signature to verify that it was in fact mine. Clearly that tells me they are looking quite thoroughly at these documents, and that's a really good thing to know. It gives me comfort, certainly, to know that the job is being done as thoroughly as it is.
Let me use one other example from my own experience. I recall that one time an item that had cost $20 or $25—I can't remember the exact amount—had been purchased as a gift for an official visit I was making to a first nation. I guess the receipt that accompanied it didn't give sufficient detail from the store it was purchased from on what exactly it was, so that was brought back to me.
Now, I'm assuming that probably in many instances, among the 4,365 letters, it would be something of that nature. I'm wondering, from your look at things.... You mentioned the 98.5%. So in that 1.5%, would it have generally been that kind of thing? You indicated insufficient documentation and that kind of thing. I'm assuming you wouldn't have discovered anything that would be of the magnitude of some of the things we've seen in the Senate.
I guess the first question is—
As I've said a number of times on this committee, I would have been able to follow up except that I wasn't listening. No, I'm just kidding.
With all due respect to Blake, I have a different series of questions, or a different view, anyway.
Going back once again to my last line of questioning, the purpose of this is to try to find out whether or not we need to replace the BOIE, and that's really why we're here.
The NDP is taking the view that we do need to. You've certainly made recommendations that we need at least some other independent body, whether it is to advise the BOIE or to replace the BOIE, that there needs to be an independent function. I can only surmise that you are saying that in your view, the BOIE, for whatever reasons, does not fulfill the functions of either transparency—and probably that's the priority you're talking about—or accountability in good governance. Otherwise, why would you think the BOIE, as we now know it, should be replaced?
We've certainly heard examples. Mr. Richards was talking about how some of his claims were rejected because the administration couldn't determine whether or not it was actually his signature. I—and I think every MP at this table—could give examples where I've made claims that have come back to for further information or clarification, which again, as Mr. Richards points out, gives me confidence that the people who are examining our expense claims are doing their job and they're doing it well. Yet you're saying that in your view, the BOIE should be either replaced or strengthened.
I'd just like to get comments from you as to, in an overarching view, why you think that's important. Is it that you just don't have enough confidence in the BOIE, or is it just not transparent enough for your purposes?
We certainly have not done an audit of the functioning of the board, and we haven't said that the board needs to be replaced. We have indicated that we think there would be a role for an independent organization to augment the process as it is right now, and that independent board could either have some authority or it could be advisory.
We don't dispute that there are very diligent people working in the administration of the House of Commons, processing claims. We agree with that. We understand they're dedicated people and they're working very hard at the jobs they do.
But again, for us this issue.... What we're doing is looking at governance structures in other places, and we're asking whether there are some good practices out there that should be considered by the committee. Whether you look at other government jurisdictions or at the private sector, we think that having a role for some sort of an audit committee, and a committee that has some independence, would be a way to help strengthen Canadians' confidence in the way members' expenses are being processed. That's really what we think the committee should be considering, whether there are ways to really enhance that confidence.
Thank you very much, Chair. I appreciate that.
Thank you again, Mr. Ferguson, for your answers.
Just to pick up on the discussion that you were having, I think it's still fair to say that all the examples you've given in here—unless I've misread them—are actually examples of arm's-length independent agencies. I saw nothing in here that was a kind of beefed-up BOIE, but more what you've referenced. By that I mean—we've talked about Alberta, although you don't reference it here—the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia, which each have independent mandates, different from the BOIE, so that it's not MPs telling the country, “Okay, every MP's expenses are okay.” It's other people, arm's length from us, saying, “Yes, they're okay. These are the rules.”
I would just ask you to comment on that.
I would just say that in responding to the rightful demand of the public to have more confidence, it's not going to come from our just painting up the existing system—and it's my opinion and I'm not looking for you to comment. But it really does need to be that independent body.
Take a look at Great Britain. That's the best example of scandals that exist. They had a bigger problem than we do or did, and look where they went to solve it. I'm perplexed why we would think about going to anything less than, and I think it's going to leave Canadians perplexed. At the end of this process, if Canadians still don't think there's a process that holds us adequately to account, we have failed. It seems to me that we ought not be tinkering but go with the idea that we need a new, separate structure, find out which model works best or whether we should have a “Made in Canada” hybrid model that suits our particular needs.
But I have to tell you, folks, this notion of doing anything that leaves the BOIE intact vis-à-vis MPs' expenses and our accountability is not going to fly. I hope that's not where the government's thinking of going with its majority, to drive us into that. That train's left the station and people expect us to be setting the same standard of accountability for ourselves that we set at the public accounts committee through the Auditor General for everybody else in government.
Now will there still be some things that could remain in the BOIE's purview? That could very well be. I used to sit on the BOIE at Queen's Park and not everything is related to members' expenses. There are other matters that go there. There may still be a BOIE performing some functions. But the notion that they in any way, shape, or form would do the auditing and accountability function of what we're talking about here to me is going to leave Canadians saying, “You're still not doing what we need, and you're still not transparent enough”, in which case we will have blown all of this time.
Chairman, I'm very pleased to be asked to appear before the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs today. At IPSA we're very proud of what we've achieved over the past four years and I'm glad to have the opportunity to share some of our experiences with you.
As you know, IPSA was created by the Parliamentary Standards Act in 2009 in response to the MPs' expenses scandal in 2008. Parliament decided that the scandal was so serious that the only way to restore public confidence was to take both regulation and the payment of MPs' costs and expenses out of Parliament's hands, to create an independent regulator.
The Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in 2010 refined IPSA's role, giving it the power to determine MPs' pay and pensions as well, and creating the role of the compliance officer, which I'm happy to discuss further during questions. That independence is what defines IPSA. It allows us to take decisions about the rules we set, about the administrative services we provide, that we believe are in the public interest. We frequently consult, we always listen to all sides of an argument, especially when they are backed by evidence, but ultimately the decisions are ours.
A second crucial characteristic of how IPSA operates is transparency. The House of Commons in the U.K. had begun to publish receipts before the last general election in 2010, but that was after resisting their publication in the courts and then, unavoidably, after the full details had been leaked to the media.
For IPSA, publication of information about MPs' claims for business costs and expenses has been a priority from the start. We first published claims in November 2010, and have been doing so on a two-monthly cycle ever since. We also publish aggregate data for the preceding financial year, ending in March, every September. This transparency, as well as complying with the aims of the U.K.'s Freedom of Information Act, allows the public to see what their MPs are spending and to decide for themselves what they think of it. It means that there's strong accountability and better understanding of the financial support an MP needs to undertake his or her parliamentary duties.
A third important element is how we provide support to MPs in carrying out their parliamentary duties. Quite unusually, we provide the payroll services, model contracts, and pay ranges for MPs' staff and, of course, we pay their costs and expenses. So we both regulate and provide those services.
Our system is based on reimbursement on the provision of evidence. But we also pay some suppliers, like landlords, pooled research services, and stationery suppliers directly. This means the MP doesn't have to pay the money out of his or her account first. MPs also have access to an online rail ticket service and have a payment card that can be used for a range of transactions. What this means is that it's possible for an MP to now pay for up to 70% of claims by value through direct payment.
We didn't have all of this from the start. IPSA moved from a blank sheet of paper on the chief executive's desk in October of 2009 to a fully functioning organization with an office, with an online claims system and a new scheme of rules, in time for the new Parliament on May 6, 2010, a really quick process.
The Office of Government Commerce in the U.K., reviewing our implementation program, said we had achieved the impossible. There were certainly challenges operationally in the early days, not least because of the registration requirements before claims could be made, and the time needed by some MPs to get used to claiming online. Some MPs also experienced cashflow problems, and we addressed those in the short term through the swift introduction of an interest-free loan of up to £4,000.
It was a learning process for both MPs and for IPSA. There were tensions. But over time most of these problems have subsided, and we have a system that works well. Most MPs and their staff are familiar with the rules and the IT system. Claims are generally paid within seven to nine working days of receipt. As I noted earlier, many of the high-value transactions can be paid directly by IPSA. Salaries are paid promptly and accurately, and every two months we publish the details of over 30,000 claims.
In policy terms we keep an eye on how the rules are working, and we review them and consult every year. We're about to open a new consultation next week. But our focus has shifted in the last year or so to MPs' pay and pensions, where IPSA's powers were brought into force in 2011. We have run two consultations, the first an open exploration of the issues; the second a focused consultation on a proposed remuneration package that features a pay increase of about 9% to begin after the 2015 general election in the U.K., and a reform of MPs' pensions to bring them more into line with the rest of the public sector. Our board will be taking decisions independently later this year.
So, to end, what are our priorities right now? First, it's to complete the work on pay and pensions. Second, it's to continue our preparations for the 2015 general election. We'll be doing that in cooperation with the House of Commons and with MPs themselves. And thirdly, we continue to look at ways of streamlining our processes to make sure we are maximizing value for money and delivering our services as efficiently as possible.
I hope that gives you something to get the ball rolling. I welcome questions, Chairman, from you and from your committee.
Well, we have a board, which is enshrined in legislation, with five members. The chairman is Sir Ian Kennedy. We have an ex-High Court judge—this is required by statute—Sir Neil Butterfield; an auditor, Anne Whitaker. An ex-MP, Tony Wright, a well-known MP, was the ex-chair of the public administration committee, amongst other things. And then we have one other board member who doesn't have to have a particular role, who is Liz Padmore, who chairs a National Health Service trust in the U.K.
Now, those have all been selected by open competition. Sir Ian was selected as chairman in 2010, and was appointed by the Speaker of the House of Commons. This is not a government appointment and it's not an opposition party appointment, but the Speaker was heading up that process. So Ian was selected then, and a number of other board members.
They will have three-year terms and all decided not to apply again. So we have a new board, apart from Sir Ian, from the beginning of this year, the people I've just described. Again, they were all selected through open competition by a panel that was again chaired by the Speaker, John Bercow, and included our chairman and a number of other public figures with expertise in senior appointments.
As for the other members of the team, initially, IPSA was, as I said, created extremely quickly, and our chief executive, Andrew McDonald, was a civil servant connected with the Ministry of Justice, which then had the policy responsibility for constitutional matters. So Andrew was appointed as interim chairman. The senior members of the team, including me, came by a number of routes. I personally was seconded from the Ministry of Justice. I've been there for three and a half years. Other directors since then have been appointed through open competition.
Thank you, Mr. Sills, for being here with us today. We're looking at an independent oversight of MPs' expenses, and we just had our very respected Auditor General of Canada come before this committee, and he said he very much would like to see independent oversight of MPs' expenses. So obviously we're looking at the types of models we could put into place for that independent oversight to bring an end to self-policing of MPs' expenses.
I want to know this, just to start off. With the transition to IPSA, was there real resistance to having independent oversight of members of Parliament, and where did that resistance come from, if there was, and what was the character of that resistance?
That's a very good question.
We do survey the public. Support has gotten better; it's just under 40%. The last time we surveyed the public, 40% of them thought things had gotten better. But of course, the stories are over. You may have seen, only yesterday, that an ex-MP pleaded guilty over expenses. That has nothing to do with the current Parliament, but an ordinary member of the public won't necessarily make a distinction.
So I think it's fair to say that most members of the public will probably say things seem okay but that we're still not that trusting. There's a long way to go, I think.
You mentioned that the budget is about £6 million. I have two question, and you may not be able to answer.
Do you have any idea how that £6 million compares with what was being spent before, when doing somewhat comparable work, but in house?
My other question would be, is there any level of pay, and if so, what is it, for the members of IPSA, in terms of wheels within wheels within wheels?
There are two answers to that question.
First, if you really wanted to know, in terms of the people who set the rules and so on, you'd need to ask people from the House of Commons rather than me. But I think the general answer is lack of transparency. It was a closed system for most of the time, and like any closed system, things happen, ways of doing things develop, so when they come out and are revealed to the public, the public recoils against them. That's essentially what happened. When the public saw some of the claims that were being made, they weren't happy about it. Transparency, though, is the key.
I think there are two principal reasons.
One is that we believe very strongly that all the relevant information has already been published, and the way we do it helps to deal with that risk, as I said earlier, of accidentally giving away personal information. The information commissioner disagreed with us and it was almost for things like, what's the colour of the heading, or did the MP scribble something on it? It's that kind of thing. It becomes quite an arcane argument about what constitutes information. I won't bore you with that now but that is the sort of legal issue.
The other issue, which in many ways is just as important, is that this will be an incredibly costly exercise. It would cost at least a million pounds a year to have the redaction team that is necessary to take out all the personal information. We also have a backlog. We've got about 600,000 to 700,000 receipts now, and if we have to publish all of those, that would cost us, again, almost a million pounds. It would be a massive undertaking with very little public value.
Mr. Sills, I want to get back to a question or an example that my colleague Monsieur Bellavance raised before. It's with regard to the egregious examples in the U.K. of incorrect expenses for anything from flat screen televisions to the dredging of a moat, those types of things. You mentioned that it's because the rules and the policies of the in-house operation allowed that to happen. In Canada, in our Parliament, the rules and policies we have governing expenses for members of Parliament would never allow those types of expenses to be approved in the first place. Similarly, the in-house administration set-up that we have, the operation called the Board of Internal Economy, seems on many levels to be remarkably similar to your operation, inasmuch as they work by consensus, they do not publish verbatim transcripts of the meetings, and most of the meetings are not held in public.
My question to you would be, if there were an in-house administration in the U.K. that operated in precisely the same manner that IPSA does, do you believe there would be a need for an independent outside operation, like IPSA, under any circumstance? Or do you believe that simply because you're independent, from a transparency standpoint, it is required to have an outside operation rather than in-house?