Auditors to carry out spot checks on MPs' allowances

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Indy Politics

Senior MPs are expected to open the door today to spot checks of parliamentary staffing and expenses amid growing pressure for radical reform of members' allowances.

Detailed proposals are likely to be drawn up before the summer, to be debated alongside reform of the way MPs' pay is determined. The Commons Estimates Committee, chaired by the Speaker Michael Martin, is likely to approve the principle of allowing auditors to make spot checks of how allowances are spent, including the employment of staff. But senior MPs warned that, to prevent allegations of sleaze, fundamental reform was needed of the way MPs' staff, housing and travel expenses are paid. Some are calling for all their staff to be employed directly by the House of Commons, while other senior figures believe MPs may replace their £23,000 living allowance with a salary increase.

Derek Conway, the disgraced Conservative MP who sparked the furore, said yesterday: "I am not a crook ... I still believe I have done nothing wrong."

Mr Conway was suspended as an MP and stripped of the Conservative whip after it was revealed that he paid his son Freddie tens of thousands of pounds of public money while he was at university. He also put his elder son Henry on the Commons payroll, and employed his wife, Colette, as his parliamentary aide. He used an interview in The Mail on Sunday to insist: "I didn't become an MP to get my snout in the trough. I don't feel we have ripped people off."

Mr Conway, who is stepping down at the next general election, said MPs were paid "less than the sous chef at the Commons". He called for members' £60,000 salary to be increased to £80,000 or £100,000."

Mr Conway stands to be paid a £30,000 tax-free resettlement grant when he leaves Parliament.

A senior Labour backbencher said: "Most members of the public would not understand why someone who has been forced to stand down as a Member of Parliament is continuing to draw a salary."

There was fresh controversy yesterday after it emerged that the Conservative MPs Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton were claiming more than £30,000 a year in parliamentary allowances for their London flat even though they paid off the mortgage six years ago.

The Mail on Sunday said the flat had been transferred to a trust to which the couple paid rent. Mrs Winterton said she and her husband did not own the trust and had no residual interest. "We checked this arrangement with what was then called the Fees Office before we went ahead, and it was okayed by the Fees Office," she said. "If it was felt that we should not have this arrangement in the future, we would merely move out of the flat, the trust would rent it out and we would rent another flat, which would possibly cost the taxpayer more."

It also emerged that Peter Hain, the former work and pensions secretary, who resigned amid controversy over donations to his campaign for the deputy leadership, employs his 80-year-old mother as a part-time secretary. Adelaine Hain has worked for her son at the Commons since 1991, earning £5,400 last year. Mr Hain said: "I've never hidden anything. She works really hard, and that's that."

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that Wendy Alexander, Labour's leader in Scotland, had been reported to prosecutors for failing to register donations to her campaign for the leadership.

Jim Dyer, the Scottish Parliament's standards watchdog, sent a report to the procurator fiscal. But Ms Alexander insisted that she had initially been advised she did not need to register 10 donors, each of whom gave less than £1,000, on the register of MSP's interests.

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