Four Labour MPs accused of abusing their expenses face the prospect of being forced to step down when their cases are judged by their party's new disciplinary panel today.
In its first meeting, Labour's three-person "star chamber" panel will decide whether or not to allow Elliot Morley, Margaret Moran, David Chaytor and Ian Gibson to run as MPs for the party at the next election. It is expected to reach its decision within a week.
Although the MPs are not obliged to appear in person before the panel, it is understood that Mr Morley, Mr Gibson and Ms Moran will do so. However, the decision over what action to take against Mr Chaytor could be delayed, as he has been dealing with the death of his mother. The panel, which was introduced after a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) last week, includes party chairman Cath Speight, its vice-chair, Ann Black, and Sir Jeremy Beecham.
Labour is under huge pressure from party members to take a tough stance against the four. Insiders said the committee wanted to take strong action, but was eager to "hear both sides" before coming to any decisions. Pressure to deselect Ms Moran increased yesterday after Esther Rantzen confirmed she would run against the Luton South MP if Ms Moran was allowed to run again. Ms Moran claimed £22,500 to treat dry rot on a second home more than 100 miles from her constituency. She has already been forced to repay the money.
Ms Rantzen said: "I am absolutely shocked by an opaque process where nobody, nobody in Westminster, nobody in Luton South knows what's happening with Margaret Moran and I think that's a symptom of what is wrong with our current attitude."
All the MPs are understood to have prepared cases explaining their claims. Mr Chaytor, accused of claiming £13,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off, is expected to argue that the claims came in a period when he was the sole carer for his mother, who had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's – which led to a change in his living arrangements. Elliot Morley, the MP for Bury North, is accused of claiming £16,000 for a "phantom" mortgage. Ben Chapman, the Labour MP for Wirral South accused of claiming £15,000 for mortgage interest he was no longer paying, has already said he will stand down at the next election.
Ian Gibson, the MP for Norwich North, will be asked to explain why he claimed expenses on a flat where his daughter was living with her partner. He later sold the property to his daughter for an allegedly reduced price. He has already conceded that he will stand down if that is the wish of his constituents.
Some members of the NEC have already complained that MPs are not being treated equally – expressing anger that only backbenchers will appear before the panel. The Employment minister Tony McNulty has so far not been ordered to appear before the committee, despite claiming for a second home in which his parents lived.
The Communities Secretary Hazel Blears has also avoided having her expenses referred to the committee, despite repaying £13,332 in capital gains tax on the sale of her second home.