Auditor General refuses to sign off Commons accounts

The Auditor General has refused to sign off last year's House of Commons accounts in full amid serious concerns about millions of pounds of expenses paid to MPs.

Amyas Morse, the head of the National Audit Office, found the Commons authorities unable to provide evidence justifying £2.6 million of claims.



In addition, the House could not prove that another £11.3 million of expenditure had been incurred for parliamentary purposes.



As a result, Mr Morse has qualified the Commons' accounts for 2009/10 - the first year in which he has been required to examine the claims of MPs in any detail.









In his report on the House of Commons Members Resource Accounts 2009/10, Mr Morse said there were £13.9 million of payments to MPs which were "either unsupported or where entitlement could not be fully demonstrated".



He said that the Commons had failed to maintain proper accounting records concerning the £98.1 million of reimbursements to MPs in expenses.



"In respect of the lack of evidence to support entitlement for payment of £13.9 million of Members' allowances, I have not obtained all the information and explanations that I consider necessary for the purpose of my audit, and proper accounting records have not been maintained," he said.



In particular, there was £800,000 of expenditure which could not be backed up by documentation despite "a major exercise to obtain evidence retrospectively".



Evidence could not be provided for £1.8 million of claims because the MPs concerned were under investigation by the police.



The Commons provided supporting documentation for £11.3 million of claims but it was insufficient proof that the money had been incurred via parliamentary business.



MP John Thurso, spokesman for the Commons Members Estimate Committee, acknowledged there were areas where "the checks and balances were not adequate".



But he said the issues had already been identified by the House and stressed that responsibility for administering MPs' expenses had now been passed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa).









The Auditor General was asked to conduct a "full scope" audit of the Commons' accounts in response to rising public anger about MPs' expenses last year.



Until then, he was only required to check that MPs had signed claims for the cash that was paid out in expenses.



"In my opinion, except for the £13.9 million of expenditure on Members' allowances that was either unsupported or where entitlement could not be fully demonstrated, in all material respects the income and expenditure have been applied for the purposes intended by Parliament and the financial transactions conform to the authorities which govern them," Mr Morse said.



Mr Thurso said the full scope audit had been requested by the Commons to ensure "everything possible was learned from the allowances issue".



"The NAO concluded the accounts were a 'true and fair view' and complied with the relevant accounting standards," he said.



"In 2009/10 the House and the NAO required considerably more documentation than in previous years and by the end of the audit the overwhelming majority of this had been provided. Since then even more evidence from MPs has been forthcoming.



"We recognise there were clearly some areas where the checks and balances were not adequate but these issues had already been identified."









After being asked to look at MPs' expenses claims in detail, Mr Morse said, he had found that one in four payments had not been supported by the evidence required under House rules.



An 11-month "remedial" project was then undertaken by the House to establish how many payments were unsupported and try to retrospectively obtain evidence for them.



But £830,000 remained unsupported at the end of that process in October. Of that, £460,000 related to MPs' staffing budgets and £370,000 to second homes and offices.



The Commons is taking action to recover only £33,794, however. That is the amount of money for which there is either no evidence of any transaction having been made at all, or where it can be positively demonstrated that payments were made incorrectly.



But £17,612 of that was paid to MPs who have since quit Parliament and so the Commons feels it is "unlikely" to be able to recover the money.



Mr Morse explained that he had "limited the scope of (his) regularity opinion" in relation to a further £11.3 million of expenses claims where the supporting evidence did not meet auditing standards.



That included £4.7 million of travel costs, £3.8 million of communications costs and £2.8 million of "other" costs including overnight subsistence and telephone calls.



He said that the rules under the Green Book that previously governed MPs' expenses had been met for this expenditure.



"However, in applying the professional standards that underpin my audit, in my opinion, these requirements are not sufficient to allow me to confirm that expenditure has been incurred for parliamentary purposes," he added.



"This lack of evidence does not necessarily imply that expenditure was paid incorrectly."







The period covered by the audit - April 2009 to March 2010 - falls mainly after the expenses scandal erupted with The Daily Telegraph's revelations in May 2009.



Mr Morse's more in-depth audit had been requested by MPs a few months earlier amid increasing suspicions about MPs' claims even prior to the welter of disclosures that followed the leak.







The MPs from whom the Commons is chasing £33,794 were not immediately named, although a House spokeswoman said they would be at a later stage.



"We intend to release the names at a later date once the MPs themselves have been informed and given an opportunity to comment," she said.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Front of House Team Member

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This strategic outsourcing and energy se...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen