Expenses MP 'told by Labour whip to move money round'

Jim Devine claims cleaning bill was funded from separate account on advice of Westminster old hand

One of the MPs charged with theft over his expenses has claimed he was told by a Labour whip he could "move money about" between taxpayer-funded accounts.

Jim Devine mounted an extraordinary defence of his actions after Gordon Brown distanced himself from the three Labour MPs who are to face court next month on criminal charges. The MP for Livingston made the allegation that a member of the Government had effectively approved his expenses arrangements in a highly charged interview.

Mr Devine is charged with theft by false accounting over claims for £3,240 for cleaning services and £5,505 for stationery using false invoices in 2008 and 2009. He told Channel 4 News: "We have separate accounts – London living, staffing, communication and an office budget. And you can move money around these accounts.

"I was moving money from communications to the staffing budget. I was advised by a whip that I could do this, who said that you could move money about like this. There was stationery... other parts of the money went into a staffing account. I was told that that was acceptable. Nobody queried it."

Mr Devine said he had no "in-service training" of how to deal with expenses because he arrived in Parliament after the October 2005 Livingston by-election, following the death of Robin Cook. "I was given a pile of books, went to the Fees Office, filled in a form and carried on with the advice I was given." But a Labour source said: "This is clearly rubbish. If a whip was going around saying that, you would assume everyone would be at it."

In a separate development, it emerged that former MPs found guilty of over-claiming expenses while they were in Parliament could have the money taken out of their pensions if they refuse to pay up. Parliamentary watchdogs are considering the plan to claw back disputed expenses amid fears that they have no authority to demand payment in any other way.

The expenses auditor, Sir Thomas Legg, dealt with the hundreds of serving MPs found to have claimed too much when he reported that £1.1m would have to be repaid. The Leader of the House, Harriet Harman, last week set a deadline of 22 February for MPs to pay up or face having the money docked from salaries, pensions, or allowances – as revealed in The Independent on Sunday in October.

But the exercise has raised questions over how Parliament can get cash from former MPs over whom it no longer has any control. A senior government source said yesterday there was now "a political appetite" for deducting any overdue repayments from pension entitlements. "This is the second phase of the process," he said. "Everyone has said we want to ensure no one escapes this process, so we have a right and a duty to go after anyone who still hasn't paid up, using all the weapons at our disposal."

Mr Devine and two fellow Labour MPs – Elliot Morley and David Chaytor – plan to claim the protection of parliamentary privilege, enshrined in the 1689 Bill of Rights, to escape prosecution. Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield faces six charges of false accounting. But the Hansard Society warned this move would send a "deeply damaging" message to voters.

Parliamentary privilege is intended to cover proceedings in the House of Commons, and legal experts say it would be difficult to see how this could cover expenses claims. Dr Ruth Fox of the Hansard Society said: "If it is a defence against almost any action that an MP takes in Parliament, in any relationship with their work, then I think that is going to be deeply damaging for the public. They will see that it is putting MPs above the public, giving them enhanced powers, making them essentially above the laws that they themselves make."

Mr Brown and David Cameron will this week try to draw a line under one of the worst incidents in Parliament's history by pushing ahead with political reform. On Tuesday, MPs will vote on the proposal for a referendum on the alternative vote (AV) system. The Prime Minister is expected to use the occasion to claim that while Labour is pro-reform, the Conservatives are opposed to a clean-up of Parliament by voting against the AV system.

Yet, in a speech tomorrow, Mr Cameron will counter the allegation by insisting that reform of Parliament after the expenses scandal is not related to changing voting systems.

In the first of his weekly video-casts, Mr Cameron called on the Prime Minister to implement reforms proposed by the Wright report on loosening the grip of the executive on Parliament – which many fear will be blocked by the Government. Mr Cameron said: "He [Mr Brown] has delayed the debate [on the Wright reforms] to effectively stop these changes taking place. I just don't know how he has got the nerve to talk about cleaning up politics. What did he do last week?... He came up with a plan for a new voting system. I think that is crazy."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
Elton John and David Furnish exchange marriage vows
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
newsAstonishing moment a kangaroo takes down a drone
Arts and Entertainment
The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit director Peter Jackson with his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
Life and Style
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: EWI / IWI Installer

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of design...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Recruitment Genius: Technical Support Analyst / Helpdesk Support Analyst

£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...

The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Management Accountant

£45000 - £55000 per annum + benefits: The Jenrick Group: Finance Manager/Manag...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'