When parliamentary managers unveiled their new watchdog to control MPs' expenses last year, contrite Honourable Members dutifully lined up to voice the need for reform. But away from the public gaze, it seems the nation's highest elected representatives resort to more robust tactics when trying to recoup the costs of their job.
Details of how some MPs indulged in swearing, tantrums, bullying and, in one case, confiscating a staff member's name badge were disclosed yesterday by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), amid a continuing row over the effectiveness of the new Commons expenses system.
An extraordinary summary of clashes between MPs and Ipsa officials reveal how politician called the revised process a "fucking abortion", while another repeatedly answered the phone of a staff member and put it down without speaking while complaining angrily that she had not been provided with a travel pass. Another MP, revealed to be the former Europe minister Denis MacShane, reduced a volunteer to tears before later apologising with a box of chocolates.
The expenses body, which released the details under the Freedom of Information Act, decided the problem of rude or aggressive legislators was getting so bad that it introduced an unofficial "yellow card system" under which the worst offenders were told they would only be able to communicate with Ipsa staff in writing.
The 10 anonymised incidents all occurred after the general election this year, when MPs were grappling with the intricacies of the new system which aims to avoid the problems that fuelled the parliamentary expenses scandal by computerising all claims and reducing direct contact between politicians and officials in charge of approving payments.
Despite the insistence of Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy that the new rules are not "complex", the FOI release provides graphic evidence that some MPs beg to differ. On 26 July, an Ipsa staff member recorded a meeting with an MP who repeatedly likened the system to an "abortion", a comment the official found "deeply inappropriate and offensive". The MP is then claimed to have said the scheme "will make the only people who want to be MPs rich people and losers".
Another member stormed out of his induction session for the new computer system branding all officials "monkeys", while another arrived at the Ipsa office "purely to criticise in an aggressive fashion", before warning: "I am going to attack you at every step."
One incident log for an encounter with a female MP on 12 May baldly reads: "Complete unwillingness to engage with volunteer, system or induction session – rude, abrupt ('I don't do administration'), used the word 'fuck' and other violent language (eg: 'I am going to murder someone today'). Very angry until she realised she could give it all to her proxy."
Failure to provide a parliamentary travel pass for use in London by 7 June seems to particularly irked another female member. After being told that couriers had failed to deliver the promised card, the MP described the explanation as an "outright lie" before she "grumbled about how incompetent we all are and stormed out of the room".
The Ipsa staff member added: "Please note that throughout this whole incident, [the MP] had an aggressive tone/manner, and she was very intimidating and belittling towards myself, with body language reflecting this. I was very close to tears by the time she left and I think if it had continued I would have been visibly upset."
The FOI release details how another MP refused to believe the explanation of a volunteer trainer that she was not being paid for her work and "grabbed" the name badge of the worker.
Mr MacShane yesterday confirmed he was involved in an incident that left a volunteer in tears, but described the Ipsa report as "inaccurate and one-sided" and criticised the decision to release the incident logs. He said: "I have good personal relationship with Ipsa management and staff and hope that with a few simple reforms the Ipsa vs MPs saga can be ended. But Ipsa should not be keeping secret files on MPs without informing them and Ipsa should not be releasing inaccurate and one-sided material to the press to smear MPs."
Parliamentarians made clear their displeasure with the new expenses system earlier this summer when they called it "indefensible" and "badly thought through".
Prime Minister David Cameron said at the time that it was not acceptable for MPs to show rudeness towards Ipsa staff. He told the BBC: "Even in the House of Commons we should try to be polite at all times. There is no justification for MPs being abusive."
* The Conservatives were today under fire over claims they were offering access to ministers for cash at a fund-raising dinner at the Tory Party Conference in October.
Reports emerged last night claiming business leaders were being offered the chance to buy tickets to the event – at which the Chancellor, George Osborne, will be the guest of honour – for up to £1,000-a-plate.
A Tory Party spokesman said: "Under the current system, events to raise money are vital to pay for the running of the party, as they always have been for all political parties."Reuse content