MPs are still paying nearly £3m of public money to family members despite attempts by the new expenses watchdog to tighten up the system, research for The Independent has found.
Analysis of MPs' staffing claims by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism for the last financial year reveals that nearly one in five MPs still employs members of their family, at a cost to the taxpayer, despite condemnation of the practice during the expenses scandal.
More than 40 family members of MPs were paid £30,000 or more, and six received between £40,000 and £44,999. Twenty-seven of the MPs who employed those close to them were newly elected in 2010. One MP employed both his estranged wife and his new partner at a combined cost of at least £55,000.
Overall, 136 MPs are employing "connected parties" in roles including office manager, secretary, and parliamentary assistant, according to figures collected by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) for the financial year 2010-2011.
Last night Sir Christopher Kelly, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, called for Ipsa to look again at allowing the practice amid fears that it could be abused.
"In our report, the committee recommended that MPs should no longer be able to employ family members at taxpayers' expense," he said.
"Although we heard plenty of evidence during our inquiry that spouses and family members offered value for money, the purpose of our recommendation was to put the new system beyond any suspicion of abuse. We continue to be concerned about the potential for abuse – perceived or otherwise – which this creates and we hope that Ipsa will keep this under review."
Among those MPs who paid the highest amount to family members of between £40,000 and £45,000 were:
* Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, who, in the financial year to April 2011, employed his wife Jeanette as office manager.
* Sir Alan Haselhurst, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden, who employed his wife Lady Angela Haselhurst as office manager.
* Graham Brady, Conservative MP for Altrincham, who employed his wife Victoria Lowther as senior parliamentary assistant.
* Christopher Chope, Conservative MP for Christchurch, who employed his wife Christine as secretary.
* Stephen Hammond, Conservative MP for Wimbledon, who employed his wife Sally as his senior parliamentary assistant.
* Tom Harris, Labour MP for Glasgow South, who employed his wife Carolyn as office manager.
Employing relatives is one of the most controversial practices still allowed under the changed expenses rules. In 2009, the Committee on Standards in Public Life recommended a ban on the practice as it was "not consistent with modern employment practice designed to ensure fairness in recruitment, management of staff and remuneration".
The then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, accepted the report's conclusions, but the head of Ipsa, Sir Ian Kennedy, disagreed and said only one family member per MP could be employed. MPs who had previously employed more than one family member were allowed to continue doing so.
Records show that these included Sir Peter Soulsby, who has since stepped down as an MP. He employed his wife and two daughters, and Laurence Robertson, Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, employed both his estranged wife and his new partner at a combined cost of at least £55,000. He declined to comment on this situation.
Graham Brady said: "All my staff are employed on the appropriate pay scales reflecting their experience, qualifications and responsibilities."
Sally Hammond, who earns between £40,000 and £44,999 as senior parliamentary assistant to her husband, defended her arrangement. She said: "I have 25 years of experience of working for MPs, and our arrangements conform to all Ipsa requirements."
136 MPs employ a total of 140 family members
219 MPs were doing the same thing in 2009
£2.8m-£3.5m Estimated cost down from £5.8m in 2009
27 Number of new MPs employing family members
£20-£25k Median salary of the 140 employees
42 Were paid over £30,000 a year, six over £40,000 (see above)