80 MPs appeal against expenses repayments

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Indy Politics

Eighty MPs are to fight demands for repayment of expenses, amid accusations that the man who reviewed their claims behaved "dishonestly".

The scale of the defiance - despite pleas from party leaders to accept Sir Thomas Legg's findings - emerged after the deadline for lodging appeals passed at 3pm today.

The former Whitehall mandarin has instructed around 200 MPs to return hundreds of thousands of pounds in "excessive" second home claims dating back to 2004.

But he infuriated many by imposing retrospective rules and limits for reasonable spending on activities such as gardening and cleaning.

A spokeswoman for the Commons Members Estimate Committee said 80 appeals had been filed by the deadline this afternoon. Former Appeal Court judge Sir Paul Kennedy is expected to rule on the cases early in the new year.

Tory backbencher Roger Gale is among those who have lodged appeals, after being ordered to hand back around £2,100 for mobile phone bills and nearly £400 in rent for a London flat.

He launched a furious assault on Sir Thomas today, saying he had "knowingly released false information".

The Thanet North MP told the Press Association the spending had been "entirely proper", as reimbursement for mobile costs was permissible when the claims were made.

"Legg knows perfectly well that the Green Book was revised in April 2005, and issued in June. My claims (for mobile bills) were all made between 2004 and mid-2005, and so were entirely proper claims."

Mr Gale also denied that he claimed 13 months' rent for a London flat in 2008-9, saying an invoice had merely been filed early.

"I claimed for it at the end of March and dated it April. He knows that and I think that is dishonest. I told him the situation and he is still knowingly releasing false information."

He went on: "Am I angry? Yes, I am. My reputation matters to me. I have been doing this job for 27 years. It has cost us well over a quarter of a million pounds out of our own pocket."

But Mr Gale said he would abide by Sir Paul's final verdict.

"If I have to write out a cheque for £2,500 I will do it, but as a matter of principle this is wrong," he said.

"Just because some people have done things that are wrong, the rest of us should not be punished."

A spokeswoman for Sir Thomas declined to comment on the remarks.

Labour's Frank Field and Frank Cook, Tory Bernard Jenkin and Liberal Democrat Jeremy Browne are among others who have indicated they will appeal against the review's findings, which were delivered to the Commons authorities last night.

Mr Jenkin, MP for Essex North, has been asked to repay the highest known sum, £63,250, because he claimed it for rent on a property owned by his sister-in-law.

However, he insists the arrangement was within the rules until 2006 and explicitly authorised by Commons officials.

"I am lodging an appeal," Mr Jenkin confirmed today. "There is no question being raised by Sir Thomas about my integrity and honesty. I will pay back whatever is finally decided."

Stockton North MP Mr Cook's request for repayment relates to £600 claims for a fridge.

Former minister Mr Field, MP for Birkenhead, is appealing over a demand to return some £7,000 for housekeeping costs and other household bills.

Meanwhile, Mr Browne has been told to hand back nearly £18,000 after Sir Thomas decided he should not have claimed a higher amount in second home allowance after remortgaging.

Mr Browne drew equity out of his London flat when he became an MP in 2005, so he could buy a property in his Taunton constituency.

But the review concluded that he should only have the claimed interest on the original £130,000 mortgage, rather than the £190,000 mortgage he was left with after his election.

"I am effectively being penalised for spending my own money, which accrued to me before I became an MP," said Mr Browne.

The MPs who have notified of their intention to appeal must now provide written details of the grounds by December 23.

The Commons authorities have warned that members who simply refuse to repay money could have it docked from future payments of allowances, salary or pension.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have urged their MPs to accept the conclusions of Sir Thomas's review, which was launched after the expenses scandal broke in the spring.

The Prime Minister has pledged to repay £12,415, even though his cleaning and gardening claims were in line with the rules in place at the time. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg repaid £910 in gardening expenses.