MP accuses House officials over expenses

Tory frontbencher wants cross-examination about 'failures to check claims'
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Indy Politics

A Conservative frontbencher has called for senior Commons officials to be cross-examined over accusations that they failed to check MPs' expenses claims properly.

Amid a growing backlash among MPs over the role of parliamentary managers in signing off lavish payments, Michael Fabricant claimed they had lost a grip on the system. He said: "Serious questions need to be asked about the future of certain very senior staff at the House of Commons."

Mr Fabricant will ask the Commons Administration Committee to investigate the role of parliamentary officials in allowing the expenses scandal to develop. The committee would have the power to summon Malcolm Jack, the clerk of the House, and Andrew Walker, who runs the Commons Fees Office, to give evidence.

The move came as it was announced that sweeping proposals for reforming the entire MPs' expenses system will be published on 4 November. The inquiry, chaired by Sir Christopher Kelly, is expected to include plans to phase out the right of MPs to receive allowances for second homes and to put relatives on their payroll.

Mr Fabricant accused senior officials of "a laissez-faire slackness" and of "creating an ethos in the Fees Office which has led to some of the worst excesses by MPs". He has been told by Sir Thomas Legg, the auditor who is scrutinising expenses claims, that he does not have to repay any money.

The frontbencher conceded it would have been unreasonable for the Fees Office to question every claim. But he argued that officials should have spotted "grievous breaches of the rules". He told The Independent, "While I do not expect the Fees Office to be combative with MPs on individual claims, it does not seem to have checked the most fundamental details. We need to know what checks were in place. A lot of grief would have been avoided if there had been tighter controls."

Since the expenses storm erupted, MPs have complained that they were encouraged to maximise their claims by Commons officials who reassured them that their checks were not too rigorous.

In a recent interview, David Cameron, the Conservative leader, said: "When I was first elected, I was renting rather than owning a home and I couldn't find my rent bill. The Fees Office said, 'Don't worry, just claim for food.'"

Mr Cameron was instructed yesterday to repay a further £18.16 from his expenses claims. The Tory leader has already paid back £218.19 from his mortgage claims, but Sir Thomas calculated that he should have returned £236.35.

A poll yesterday found that public anger with MPs is still intense. The survey, by PoliticsHome, revealed that 57 per cent had "no sympathy whatsoever" for MPs.

It was published as David Wilshire, the Tory MP who this week announced his resignation at the next election over his expenses claims, was urged to pay back more than £105,000 of public money reportedly paid to a company he owned. Mr Wilshire has strongly denied any wrong-doing and said the arrangement was formally approved by the Fees Office.

But Malcolm Royer, a Tory councillor in the MP's Surrey constituency, said: "Now he should do the honourable thing and pay the money back." Mr Cameron said Mr Wilshire "made the right decision" in announcing he would stand down and co-operate with an inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Asked whether Mr Wilshire should return public money paid to his company, the Tory leader replied: "There is going to be a proper investigation. They will look at all the arrangements that were put in place and whether any money should be paid back."