MP security costs soared by nearly 2000% amid bitter Brexit battles, report finds
The Institute for Government report found that MP security costs had ballooned during the last Parliament.
The cost of keeping MPs safe soared nearly twenty times above pre-2015 levels during the last Parliament’s bitter feuding over Brexit, a new report has found.
The latest 'Parliamentary Monitor' report from the Institute for Government reveals that between 2015/16 and 2017/18 the cost of MPs’ security assistance rose from just £171,000 to more than £4.5million.
The think tank found that while costs had begun to fall again in the past year, they remained “almost 2000% above pre-2015 levels” in 2018/19, with £3.5m spent on security assistance to Parliamentarians last year.
“This fall is because many of the costs that MPs had claimed for were one-offs – for example, the cost of fitting a new security alarm,” the IfG founds
“As a growing proportion of MPs have now addressed their security needs, costs have started to fall.
“However, as the 140 new MPs elected in the 2019 election start to consider their physical security, the trend may reverse and costs may begin to climb again as MPs continue to experience and report threats to their safety.”
The findings came as the think tank warned that Commons showdowns over Britain’s EU exit in the last Parliament had had a “profound and detrimental effect” on the relationship between MPs and ministers, and tested Commons procedures “to their limits”.
And it said the tortuous passage of the EU Withdrawal Agreement brought “many longstanding concerns about the way the Houses operate” into focus.
“Since the end of the 2017–19 parliament, the coronavirus crisis – and the unprecedented political and economic response to it – have put many of the events of the 2017–19 parliament into sharp perspective,” the report said.
“Nonetheless, while the twists and turns of events in parliament are no longer headline news, the turbulence of the past two and a half years is still likely to have a lasting impact.”
The IfG found that the Government had used its control of Parliamentary time to avoid scheduling any opposition-led debates for an entire five-months between late 2018 and early 2019, “a key period in the Brexit process”.
And it said MPs had handed ministers “extraordinarily broad powers” to prepare the statute book for Brexit, “in exchange for only small improvements in parliamentary oversight” during the period.
The IfG is calling on both MPs and the Government to make sure the current session of Parliament, dominated by the coronavirus crisis, is marked by “adequate parliamentary scrutiny” - something it warns is “particularly pressing given the extraordinarily broad powers” ministers now wield to respond to the pandemic.
They recommend regularly-scheduled opposition day debates to allow Labour to hold the Government to account, and call on ministers to “provide sufficient time for parliamentary scrutiny of government bills”.
“Parliament should review whether select committees have sufficient powers to call for witnesses and evidence – including government information,” the report says.
The think tank also backs calls to bolster Parliament’s ability to work remotely, and says any moves to bring Parliament back to its usual way of working in the coming weeks “should not disadvantage members unable to attend in person”.
IfG senior researcher Joe Marshall, who co-authored the new report, said the Covid-19 crisis had “put the political turmoil of the Brexit Parliament into sharp perspective”.
“However, the events of the 2017-19 Parliament will have a lasting impact,” he added.
“They raised questions about where sovereignty lies in the UK constitution and highlighted the need to update and clarify contentious parliamentary procedures. If the scars of the last parliament are not addressed, these problems may re-emerge in future.”
Fellow senior researcher Alice Lilly said: “The 2017-19 Parliament saw MPs and peers grapple with various important and high-profile issues – including Brexit, allegations of bullying and harassment and increased security concerns.
"Yet, at the same time, the conditions for reaching consensus – majority government and strong party loyalty – slipped away, making it more difficult for Parliament to function.”