Bercow: pay back your expenses now

Speaker says that he will not be a 'shop steward' for MPs

John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, has told MPs they must accept it is "payback time" on their expenses to restore public trust in Parliament and avoid allegations of a "Westminster whitewash".

In his first interview since becoming Speaker in June, Mr Bercow urged MPs to accept the verdict of Sir Thomas Legg, the former civil servant auditing their expenses who has demanded that they repay thousands of pounds in allowances. "Denial, delay or delusion is not an option," he said.

"Many MPs are upset but the public is extremely angry. We have to recognise and address that anger," he told Steve Richards, The Independent's chief political commentator, in an interview for tomorrow's Week in Westminster programme on BBC Radio 4.

The Speaker's tough message will disappoint MPs who hoped he would challenge Sir Thomas's decision to impose retrospective limits for cleaning and gardening costs. He declared that his role was not to be a "shop steward" for MPs but an "ambassador for Parliament".

Mr Bercow insisted the Legg inquiry was never intended to be a "receipt-authentication process" and was always going to review the wisdom of original payments. Although MPs could challenge its initial recommendations, he believed the vast majority would accept its final ruling in their case.

"In the end, we have to secure closure," he said. "There is no perfection in this process. There is a trade-off between 'within the rules' on the one hand and 'well beyond public expectations' on the other. If there is a choice of headlines between 'payback time' on the one hand and 'Westminster whitewash' on the other, I would much rather have the former than the latter.

"The public has to see and be satisfied that we have got the message, that there is public displeasure, that the process has to be changed, and that there must be consequences for past claims if they can be shown to be demonstrably wrong or extravagant."

Yesterday, the Speaker said he would repay an "accidental overclaim" of £978.51 after being asked by Sir Thomas to provide mortgage documentation relating to his second home. He said the discrepancy arose after he switched mortgage provider for a better deal.

In the BBC interview, Mr Bercow said he hoped Cabinet ministers who sit in the House of Lords, such as the Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson, and the Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, could soon be answering questions in the Commons, and admitted there was currently a "democratic deficit". As an interim measure, they may be quizzed by MPs in the Westminster Hall mini-chamber rather than the Commons chamber.

Mr Bercow, who will be challenged in his Buckingham seat by the UK Independence Party's Nigel Farage at the general election, said he was happy to be judged on his track record, his commitment to the constituency and his determination to restore faith in Parliament.

The tensions caused by the Legg review surfaced yesterday, when the Commons Leader, Harriet Harman, said it would be "arbitrary" for Sir Thomas to apply different rules and standards than those which applied at the time MPs' expenses were claimed. Although Downing Street denied any split, her remarks to MPs appeared to differ from Gordon Brown's edict to Labour MPs to accept the payback demands.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Ramsay Bolton in Game of Thrones
tvSeries 5, Episode 3 review
News
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence