MPs accused of abusing parliamentary expenses will be harder to investigate under a new system after House of Commons officials "destroyed" paperwork relating to their claims, it has been revealed.
Commons Speaker John Bercow has been accused of heading a new cover-up following the destruction of records relating to claims made before 2010, when a new policy of disposing records after three years was introduced in the wake of the expenses scandal, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Members of the public wrote to the parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson asking her to investigate claims made by their MP dating back to 2004 to which she claimed that paperwork no longer existed.
This now means that "cold case" investigations – which have seen the resignation of Culture Secretary Maria Miller after she was found to have wrongly claimed tens of thousands of pounds in mortgage payments between 2005 and 2009 – could be far more difficult in future.
In pictures: Not-so virtuous MPs
In pictures: Not-so virtuous MPs
1/17 Lord Hanningfield
Lord Hanningfield claimed more than £3,000 in a month by regularly 'clocking in' to the House of Lords to claim his £300 daily attendance allowance. The former Conservative leader of Essex Council was also convicted in May 2011 for fiddling his expenses.
2/17 Denis MacShane
The disgraced former Labour minister was jailed for six months at the Old Bailey in July 2013 after admitting making bogus expense claims amounting to nearly £13,000.
3/17 Maria Miller
Although she was cleared of making false expenses claims, Maria Miller was ordered to pay back £5,000 in overclaimed taxpayer-funded expenses on her second home. Mrs Miller’s apology in the Commons lasting just over half a minute was widely viewed as grudging and perfunctory. She resigned over the row in April.
4/17 Eric Joyce
Falkirk MP Eric Joyce was fined £1,500 at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in March after admitting abusive behaviour at the city’s airport. Mr Joyce repeatedly hurled insults at baggage handlers, and abused a black police officer during the incident in May 2012. He has said he will now “reflect” on whether to continue at Westminster until the election next year.
5/17 Mark Harper
Immigration minister Mark Harper resigned after it emerged his cleaner was working in the country illegally. Mr Harper quit after he discovered his cleaner, whom he employed at his London flat for seven years, did not have indefinite leave to remain in the UK.
6/17 Lord Rennard
The former chief executive of the Liberal Democrats faced allegations of sexual harassing several women, claims he denies. He was suspended after refusing to bow to calls from Mr Clegg to apologise to the women.
7/17 Mark Menzies
Former Conservative MP Mark Menzies resigned as a ministerial aide following allegations made by a Brazilian rent boy in March. The MP for Fylde in Lancashire resigned his position as a parliamentary private secretary (PPS) amid allegations which appeared in a tabloid newspaper, some of which he strenuously denied.
8/17 Nadhim Zahawi
Nadhim Zahawi apologised in March for charging the taxpayer £5,822 to heat his stables. It later emerged that he had claimed 31p on his expenses for paperclips, 53p for a holepunch, 63p for ballpoint pens and 89p for a stapler.
9/17 Liam Fox
Former Defence Secretary Liam Fox resigned in 2011 over his working relationship with his friend Adam Werritty, which saw the Tory MP ordered to repay £3,000 of expenses for allowing Mr Werritty to live rent-free at his taxpayer-funded second home for a year. Mr Fox faced further embarrassment when it was revealed successfully claimed 3p of taxpayers’ cash for a car journey of fewer than 100 metres.
10/17 Aidan Burley
The ex-Tory MP for Cannock Chase was photographed at a Nazi-themed stag party in 2011. He admitted there had been 'clearly inappropriate behaviour’ by some of the other guests at the party in a French ski resort after the Mail on Sunday published photographs of Mr Burley at the event, where revellers allegedly made Nazi chants and toasted the Third Reich.
11/17 Jeremy Hunt
Mr Hunt admitted to sending a congratulatory text message to News Corp executive James Murdoch just hours before the minister was asked to oversee the firm's bid for BSkyB. Although Downing Street insisted that Mr Hunt had acted properly during the takeover, a Labour MP accused him in the house of deliberately misleading Parliament about his contact with News Corp over the takeover.
12/17 Brian Binley
The Tory MP for Northampton South, allegedly told a local businessmen ‘we are all totally corrupt’ talking about politicians at a drinks party during a taxpayer-funded trip to Malta.
13/17 Tim Yeo
Stood down as the chairman of the influential Energy and Climate Change committee in June 2013 amid allegations he was prepared to use his position to help business clients.
14/17 Chris Huhne
The former Energy Secretary was jailed for eight months in March 2013 for swapping penalty speeding points with ex-wife Vicky Pryce in an offence that the court heard had struck at the heart of the criminal justice system.
15/17 Patrick Mercer
Patrick Mercer resigned the Tory whip in May last year after he was filmed by the BBC's 'Panorama' apparently agreeing to lobby on behalf of Fiji for a pro-Fijian cross-party committee.
16/17 Michael Martin
Former Labour party MP Michael Martin became the first Commons Speaker to be forced out of office for more than 300 years following criticism of his handling of the MPs’ expenses scandal of 2009.
17/17 Jacqui Smith
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stood down in the cabinet reshuffle amid a flurry of controversy after the MPs expenses scandal revealed her husband Richard Timney, who also ran her constituency office, had watched two pay-per-view adult movies which had then, unknown to her, been subject to a claim for reimbursement. The ‘porn scandal’ not only saw the former Labour MP Ms Smith, who was the first female Home Secretary, eventually resign but also saw her lose her parliamentary seat in May 2010.
Ms Miller also came under fire for making £1 million profit from selling the five-bedroom Victorian house in Wimbledon, south west London, that she bought with her husband for £234,000 with a 90 per cent mortgage in 1996 and subsequently paid for with the financial benefits of MPs' second home allowances.
Ms Hudson had been contacted by three Tory activists in the Isle of Wight, asking her to investigate claims made by local Conservative MP Andrew Turner between 2004 and 2010.
Mr Turner said that his claims had been audited and found to be in compliance with the rules at the time.
But the complainant, David Pugh, received a letter from Ms Hudson saying: "All records relating to expenses claims before 2010 have now been destroyed. No unredacted information is now available here nor any notes of conversations or advice given to Mr Turner which might establish the facts."
She also said that half the period covered by their complaint fell outside the seven-year limit for investigation.
A Commons spokesman said that records of MPs' expenses claims were destroyed after three years in order to to comply with data protection laws under the House's authorised records disposal practice (ARDP). However, the pay, discipline and sickness records of Commons staff are kept until their 100th birthday and health and safety documents are kept for 40 years.
"The retention period for general financial data, of which Members' expenses is a sub-set, is three years after the current financial year finishes. The long-standing policy on retention of MPs' expenses records was originally agreed by the Members Estimate Committee (MEC)," the spokesman said.
"In accordance with the ARDP, the disposal of records relating to Members' expenses claims pre-2010 was carried out on a routine basis at various times each year up to 2014, four years after the House of Commons' oversight of the MPs' expenses arrangements finished."
Labour MP John Mann, expressed concern about the move and said he would be tabling a question asking Mr Bercow to explain what had happened.
"It sounds like MPs trying to protect MPs again. It will make the public very suspicious of what the motive is. The old gentlemen's club is resurrecting itself," he said.