MP Sir Nicholas Winterton vents fury at 1st class travel ban

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A veteran Conservative MP hit out at the new expenses culture at the House of Commons today, saying he was "infuriated" that he can no longer travel first class on trains.

Sir Nicholas Winterton also challenged the £1.1 million cost of an audit of MPs' expenses by Sir Thomas Legg, describing the former mandarin's salary for chairing the review as "megabucks".

The Macclesfield MP repaid £850 after the Legg Inquiry found he had been overpaid for council tax bills on his second home.

He had previously faced criticism for claiming parliamentary allowances with MP wife Ann Winterton for rent of £20,000 a year on a flat they transferred to a family trust after paying off the mortgage.

In an interview with Total Politics magazine, Sir Nicholas said the reforms of the Commons being introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal would "make things much worse".

"They want to stop Members of Parliament travelling first class," he said. "That puts us below local councillors and officers of local government. They all travel first class. Majors in the army travel first class.

"So we are supposed to stand when there are no seats... I'm sorry, it infuriates me."

Sir Nicholas, who has been in the Commons for 39 years, said he was now "looking forward" to standing down as an MP at the coming election.

He said in previous years MPs were told they did not have to account for how they spent their allowances.

"When I came in in 1971, the head of the Fees Office, as it was known then, said to me 'Mr Winterton, these are your expenses and allowances'," he recalled.

"He said 'This is the figure. If you spend a pound over it, you won't get that pound back but you can spend that allowance how you like. It is there for you to spend at your discretion'.

"Now, retrospectively, they are seeking to justify members providing a full explanation going back five years. I can't go back 12 months, let alone five years."

Sir Nicholas criticised the money spent on Sir Thomas's review: "The man is raking it in. Do you know how much he has earned for chairing the review? He has earned so far £142,000.

"And the actual cost of the review is currently over £1.1 million. These are megabucks."

The increasing scrutiny of MPs would produce a Commons packed with career politicians with little experience of normal life, he warned.

"Parliament is going to become a House of career politicians. They are anything but professional," said Sir Nicholas, 71.

"The people who increasingly dominate this House are people who are intelligent but they go from school to university, university to researcher, researcher to adviser, then to candidate.

"They have no experience of life outside. Have they ever paid wages at the end of the week? Have they ever been through negotiations over a business deal? Have they been in the law? No."