Five ministers among 70 MPs in expenses appeal

30-page Legg report on abuse of allowances due to be published on Thursday
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Indy Politics

Serving Government ministers have fought attempts to make them repay taxpayers for some of their expenses claims, it has emerged.

It is understood that around 70 MPs have appealed the demands for repayment made by Sir Thomas Legg, whose potentially explosive report into the abuse of allowances will reopen the expenses scandal when it is published on Thursday.

Nearly half of all MPs are thought to have been identified by Sir Thomas as having made improper claims. Among those to have appealed are seven members of the Government, two members of David Cameron's frontbench team and a former leader of the Tories.

No Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet members appealed the decisions after pressure from the party leaderships not to inflame public anger by fighting the repayment demands. However, Vera Baird, the Solicitor General, successfully appealed.

She said: "I had been asked to repay £1,279.23 of mortgage interest for 2008/09 by the Legg inquiry. The letter I have received from Sir Paul Kennedy says I have nothing to repay. I was told in that letter: 'Over the five year period 04/09 you under-claimed by £368.73. You only claimed for payments for which you were entitled to receive. That is what matters to me. It is not fair and equitable to require any repayment.'

"My name is now totally cleared and that is fair.”

Other members of the Government who have appealed are Dan Norris, an environment minister, Claire Ward, a justice minister, Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, and Michael Foster, an international-aid minister. Government whips Frank Roy and Stephen McCabe have also fought repayments, according to The Sunday Telegraph. Ed Vaizey and Julian Lewis, members of Mr Cameron's frontbench team, have appealed their cases, along with the former Tory leader Michael Howard.

The former Home Secretary Charles Clarke is among the high-profile MPs to have successfully overturned repayments. "I am delighted with this authoritative judgment, which confirms that I have behaved properly in regards to my own expenses claims as a Member of Parliament," he said.

The 30-page report by Sir Thomas, the former civil servant appointed to review expenses claims by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, is set to make sweeping criticisms of MPs for abusing the system, as well as attacking the officials who allowed the claims to go through unopposed.

Anti-sleaze campaigners have raised fears that key details on the appeals process will remain hidden. The reasons for MPs questioning Sir Thomas's findings are not expected to be fully explained. The MPs who have been investigated by police over their claims are also set to remain anonymous after the publication of the report this week.

Sir Thomas caused outrage among MPs last October when he applied retrospective rules on the amount that could be claimed on gardening and cleaning bills. Others were angry at a "rushed job" which had led him to make false accusations about claims on mortgage payments. The Prime Minister was ordered to repay more than £12,000 for cleaning, gardening and decorating costs.

Each MP was issued with a letter outlining whether they were required to make any repayments, with some seen in the Commons mail room tearing up their notes in frustration at the way Sir Thomas had gone about his audit. They were all given the chance to appeal to Sir Paul Kennedy, a former judge.