Ex-Cameron aide Andrew MacKay ordered to apologise over expenses

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Indy Politics

A former close aide to David Cameron was today ordered to apologise after claiming for both his homes on parliamentary expenses.

Andrew MacKay made a "serious misjudgement" in claiming allowances so that the taxpayer was effectively funding two properties where he lived with wife Julie Kirkbride when they were MPs.

The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said Mr MacKay, who stepped down from his Bracknell seat at the election, should apologise in writing.

"In our view, it should have been obvious to Mr MacKay that the arrangement whereby he and Ms Kirkbride each designated the other's second home as their main home, allowing both to be funded from parliamentary allowances, was fundamentally wrong," the watchdog said.

The couple have already repaid nearly £60,000 between them after Sir Thomas Legg's audit of expenses found their claims were unreasonable.

The committee did not consider whether Ms Kirkbride had breached the rules, as no complaint was received against her.

However, it separately cleared the ex-Bromsgrove MP of wrongdoing in increasing her mortgage claims to build an extension to accommodate her brother.

Ms Kirkbride said: "I am delighted that the parliamentary standards commissioner has cleared my name and found me not guilty of abusing my expenses."

The committee said it would have recommended Mr MacKay be suspended if he had still been an MP.

"We are very disappointed that, even after seeing the commissioner's full report, Mr MacKay maintains that he did not break the rules, when it is quite clear that he did," the watchdog said.

"Mr MacKay has already paid a high price for making such a serious misjudgment. The very fact that Mr MacKay is no longer a Member of Parliament shows what a heavy political price he has paid.

"He has also repaid a considerable sum of money. Nonetheless, we expect Mr MacKay, having read our report, to apologise for the breach in writing.

"Had Mr MacKay still been a Member of this House, we would have recommended that he apologise on the floor of the House by means of a personal statement, and we would have recommended a period of suspension from the service of the House."

Mr MacKay was a Commons aide to Mr Cameron and a member of the Tory leader's inner circle until he resigned in May last year when the so-called expenses "double dipping" emerged.

He claimed more than £1,000 a month for mortgage interest payments on the flat near Westminster.

At the same time, Ms Kirkbride used her allowances to receive more than £900 a month towards the loan on their house in her Bromsgrove constituency.

The arrangement meant the couple did not have a main home that they funded out of their own pockets.

Sir Thomas concluded that rather than both claiming near to the maximum of the accommodation allowance on separate properties, it would have been "reasonable" for them to have each claimed two-thirds of the full allowance on a shared second home.

In his report, Mr Lyon dismissed Mr MacKay's claim that he was acting on advice received in 1997 from the then-head of the Commons fees office, insisting MPs had "personal responsibility" for their allowances.

The standards commissioner said Mr MacKay's decision not to review his actions until they came to light in 2009 was "unwise".

Sir Thomas's audit earlier this year decided that Ms Kirkbride should repay £2,584 of extra mortgage interest claimed as a result of the extension being built. Her brother was said to be helping out with childcare while he stayed at the house.

However, that element of the repayment was rejected on appeal by former judge Sir Paul Kennedy.