MPs' anger mounts over expenses report

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MPs today rounded on Sir Christopher Kelly, the civil servant appointed to root out sleaze and corruption from Parliament, as more details emerged of the restrictions they could face on their expenses.

When Sir Christopher's report is published on 4 November, he is expected to recommend cutting tens of thousand of pounds off the compensation paid to MPs who retire tor lose their seats, as well as recommending that no MP whose seat is within an hour's train journey of Westminster should be entitled to claim for second home. He will also say that MPs be banned from employing members of their families.

One Tory is so angry that he has told the Whips that he will close his Commons office altogether, to work from home and his constituency office, if Sir Christopher Kelly's recommendations are put into effect.

The Conservative MP Charles Walker, whose Broxbourne seat, in Hertfordshire, is less than an hour’s train journey from London, accused Mr Kelly of finding a “bureaucratic solution” instead of going for the simple but effective measure of making all MPs’ expenses taxable at 40 per cent and leaving Inland Revenue to decide which counted as legitimate expenses.

“Parliament is not my main place of work, that’s what Kelly does not realise,” he said. “I’m here 134 days a year, and I’m in my constituency practically 330 days a year. There is not one other profession or vocation where people would be expected to pay to be somewhere that is not their main place of work. I have an office in my home, and I have an office in my constituency. I shall work from there.”

He added: “We’re well on the way to creating two tiers of MPs – those that wealthy enough to afford a second home and can stay in London after a day in Parliament, and those who will have to scurry back to their constituencies.”

Other MPs vent their fury personally on Sir Christopher, who chairs the Committee on Standards in Public Life, and on Sir Thomas Legg, the former civil servant brought in to audit past expenses claims. One senior Tory said: “These are people on pensions bigger than an MP’s salary who cannot understand why any of us should have the temerity to disagree with them just because we have been elected.”

Another Tory MP, Roger Gale, who faces having to sack his wife, Suzy, who has worked in his constituency office in North Thanet for 27 years, said: “I don’t think Mr Kelly lives in the real world. We’re being sacrificed on the altar of public opinion. This is civil service populism mixed with party political populism, and it’s a cheap shot.”

Tory MP Alistair Burt said he will hit twice by the rules changes. He will not be allowed to claim rent on a London home, because his North East Bedfordshire seat is less than an hour’s train journey away, and he too will have to stop employed his wife, Eve. “I don’t think anyone benefits, but I will work with the new rules,” he said. “I’m disappointed for Eve, she doesn’t deserve to lose her job because she’s married to me. She invested her career in the work she’s doing, and she’s going to be sacked because she’s married.”

Another angry MP, who has been told by Thomas Legg to repay a large sum he had claimed in expenses, said: “If you ask a civil servant to report on the rules governing a job that he knows nothing about you cannot be surprised if he comes up with the wrong answers. Oliver Cromwell appointed a group of generals to keep Parliament under control. These people are like Cromwell’s generals. They think they are purer than us.”

Yesterday it emerged that some of the biggest losers from Mr Kelly’s proposal could be the 200 or more MPs whose political careers will end next year. MPs are currently entitled to a resettlement grant of up to £64,000 to help their transition to life out of politics. However, it is understood that Mr Kelly has proposed that should be cut to a maximum of less than £10,000.

The independent review of the expenses system, overseen by Sir Christopher, is also likely to suggest the total scrapping of the communications grant, which had been provided £10,000 a year for MPs to set up websites and send out literature to their constituents.

Plans to stop MPs from claiming for mortgages, phase out the employment of relatives in their offices and cut travel allowances have already emerged from the review by the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which will be published next Wednesday.

While party leaders are determined to force through the reforms, some disgruntled MPs are already plotting to force a vote on the measures. One government minister privately predicted that the scale and vehemence of the opposition is so great that Kelly’s reported recommendations will never come into effect. “I’m not personally affected,” the minister said. “I don’t employ any members of my family, I don’t claim mortgage on a second home, and my constituency’s more than an hour away, but a lot of colleagues are very worked up about this,. I say ‘duh! It’s not going to happen. It’ll never be enacted.”

Sources at No.10 said that no vote had to be taken, as power to impose the new rules lay solely with the newly established Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. However, MPs said yesterday that they believed their right to claim for interest on mortgages was enshrined in law and needed their approval to be overturned.

Sir Stuart Bell, the Labour MP who sits on the Members Estimate Committee which oversees the expenses system, said there would be scope for parliament to discuss the sweeping reforms. He said the suggestion that a potential bar on a second home allowance for MPs who live within an hour’s commute to Westminster was "totally unacceptable".

* The former Home Office minister Tony McNulty could be facing a rebuke from the Parliamentary standards watchdog following an investigation into his second home allowance claims. The BBC reported that Mr McNulty will be required to apologise to the House of Commons and repay around £13,000 when the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee releases its report into his case, expected on Thursday.

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