Front-runners stumble in the race for Speaker

Claims for second homes return to haunt candidates to succeed Michael Martin
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Indy Politics

The battle to become the next Commons Speaker has been thrown open after leading candidates for the chair were hit by allegations over their expenses. Three of the front-runners to succeed Michael Martin – Sir Alan Beith, John Bercow and Sir George Young – faced questions over their second-home claims.

There is no suggestion they broke parliamentary rules, but the disclosures could make it harder for them to present themselves as the right person to clean up the discredited expenses system.

Sir Alan, the longest-serving Liberal Democrat MP, hit back yesterday after information that he and his peer wife both took parliamentary expenses while staying at the same address. He received £117,000 to cover rent on a flat in London between 2000 and 2008, and his wife, Baroness Maddock, received £60,000 in overnight allowances.

Sir Alan said there was nothing wrong with the arrangement, because he and his wife split their rent payments. He said: "It would be quite wrong for the taxpayer to pay twice for the same costs, so we have shared the costs."

The Berwick-upon-Tweed MP also defended expenses claims which he submitted for a new kitchen worth £5,457. He said: "The kitchen had had no work done on it since the 1960s, the cupboards were falling apart and the appliances, which were second-hand when acquired, were not energy-efficient."

Mr Bercow, a Conservative MP considered an early front-runner for the job, allegedly "flipped" his second home from his Buckingham constituency to a £540,000 flat in London and claimed the maximum possible allowances for the past four years. He told The Daily Telegraph that he changed his second-home designation from London to Buckingham when his son started school in the capital. Sir George, a veteran Tory MP, was said to have put a total of £127,159 in second-home expenses on his London flat between 2001 and 2008, claiming the maximum allowance on the property over the past two years. He spent £699 on a washer-dryer and £449 on a dishwasher, although both claims were cut by the Fees Office. Sir George, who employs his daughter, Camilla, as his office manager, also neglected to claim a council-tax discount to which he was entitled, instead charging the taxpayer for the full amount.

Two other potential candidates for the job – Sir Alan Haselhurst and Sir Menzies Campbell – have also been hit by controversy over their claims. Only Labour MP Frank Field – one of the Commons' lowest claimants – appears to have emerged unscathed.

A dark horse for the job, the former shadow Home Secretary David Davis, claimed more than £10,000 for home improvements, including a £5,700 portico for his Yorkshire house. The shock departure of Mr Martin this week has left a wide potential field to replace him with several senior MPs mulling over their chances of winning the contest, decided by secret ballot on 22 June.

Order order: The allegations – and the odds

*John Bercow, Tory MP for Buckingham

Expenses "Flipped" second home, maximum claims for the property.

Odds: 3/1

*Frank Field, Labour MP, Birkenhead

Expenses One of the lowest claimants, charging less than half the maximum.

Odds: 5/1

*Sir George Young, Tory MP for Hants North West

Expenses Claimed maximum allowance on London flat. Failed to get council- tax discount.

Odds: 11/2

*Sir Alan Beith, Liberal Democrat MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed

Expenses Both he and peeress wife claimed on the same London home and refurbished their kitchen on expenses.

Odds: 7/1

*Sir Menzies Campbell, Liberal Democrat MP for Fife North East

Expenses Spent almost £10,000 refurbishing flat; has repaid the designer's £1,490 fee.

Odds: 20/1

*Sir Alan Haselhurst, Deputy Speaker and Tory MP for Saffron Walden

Expenses Charged nearly £12,000 for gardening bills and £638 for repairs to patio.

Odds: 20/1

(All odds supplied by Ladbrokes)