The Prime Minister's climate change envoy Elliot Morley has been sacked and also suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after he was found to have claimed £16,000 of taxpayers' money for a mortgage that no longer existed.
Mr Morley, a former agriculture minister, issued an unreserved apology yesterday after it emerged he had continued to claim £800 a month for a home in his Scunthorpe constituency after the mortgage had been fully repaid in 2006. He has now submitted his expenses to Westminster's sleaze watchdog in the hope it will prove the error was unintentional. John Lyon, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, will begin an investigation.
Fraud lawyers said Mr Morley could face criminal charges if it was proved his wrongful claims had been deliberate, a charge he fiercely denies. He may still be embroiled in a court battle even if no criminal charges are brought against him. The TaxPayers' Alliance is considering a private prosecution if no police action is taken.
"I accept that I have made a mistake in this case and have rectified it in full," Mr Morley, the Labour MP for Scunthorpe, said in a statement yesterday. "I deeply apologise for such sloppy accounting in a very loose and shambolic allowance system but there is nobody to blame but myself and I take full responsibility for this."
In an attempt to limit the damage of the latest expenses scandal, the Prime Minister announced the suspension of Mr Morley during the launch of Labour's European election campaign in Derbyshire. "Where there is irregularity now it has got to be dealt with immediately," he said. "Where disciplinary action is necessary, it will and will immediately be taken."
His future as the local Labour party's choice as parliamentary candidate is also in doubt. Fellow Labour MP, John Mann, said he should stand down as an MP as his explanation was "not credible". Local party members refused to comment about Mr Morley's future yesterday, but constituents freely expressed their anger. A neighbour, Mary Burnett, said his actions were "disgraceful". His constituency home at the centre of the scandal was under police guard last night.
Mr Morley's interest in the environment, including a love of bird watching, was appreciated by Tony Blair, who made him an agriculture minister in 1997. The job saw him thrust into dealing with a series of crises for the Government, including the banning of foxhunting and the outbreak of foot-and-mouth in 2001. By 2005, he had been promoted to the role of the world's first climate change minister and earned respect among green groups. He was rewarded with his role as climate change envoy upon leaving the Government in 2006.
After losing the title, he remains under pressure to resign his prestigious position as the chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee. Nadine Dorries, a Tory committee member, yesterday called on Mr Morley to quit the position until the standards commissioner completed his investigation.
Close friends of Mr Morley hoped he could weather the storm and hold on to his position on the committee, an honour of which he is extremely proud. "He's been committed to green issues for years. I think there is enough respect for him to allow him to keep hold of the committee," one said.
Sources in Downing Street denied the Prime Minister knew about Mr Morley's expenses transgressions two weeks ago, when the money was repaid. They said that while Labour's chief whip, Nick Brown, had been told by Mr Morley that there may be a problem about a week ago, both Mr Brown and the Prime Minister only learned of the exact nature of the allegations on Wednesday night, which led to an early morning crisis meeting at Number 10 yesterday.
That was followed by a meeting between Nick Brown and Mr Morley yesterday afternoon. Mr Brown said that Mr Morley's suspension from the parliamentary Labour Party was designed to "give him some space to clear his name". He added that he was not aware of any further expense abuses as serious as Mr Morley's case.
Crime & Punishment
Claimed more than £16,000 over 18 months for a mortgage that had already been paid off. Has now repaid the money.
Suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party. He will also be investigated by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, John Lyon. Could yet face a police investigation, after a complaint by the Taxpayers' Alliance, and a prosecution would be considered if it was thought he had claimed the money deliberately. The Taxpayers' Alliance has threatened a private prosecution if the Crown Persecution Service takes no action.Reuse content