Veteran Tory couple stand down after expenses row

Conservative MPs to spend 'more time with family'
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The veteran Tory MPs Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton – whose expenses claims were once denounced by David Cameron as "indefensible" – are to stand down from the Commons at the next election.

The couple said they could not "maintain the hectic pace" of political life and wanted to spend more time with their family. Six Tory MPs have now announced their impending retirement since the expenses storm broke nearly three weeks ago. Although the Wintertons would have been forced to appear before a Tory scrutiny panel re-examining MPs' claims, party sources said it was not clear whether the controversy over their expenses had played a part in their decision.

Sir Nicholas, 71, has been MP for Macclesfield in Cheshire for 37 years, while his 68-year-old wife has represented neighbouring Congleton for almost 26. The couple were recently named as having claimed £80,000 in parliamentary allowances in the past four years for a London flat owned by a trust controlled by their children.

They were rebuked last year by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, John Lyon, who ruled that they broke Commons rules over the claims on their property. They bought the £700,000 flat in the early 1990s. After paying off the mortgage, they gifted it to a family trust in 2002 reportedly to avoid death duties.

They then occupied it as tenants, using their Commons second-home allowances to pay the rent to the trust. The family is estimated to have received more than £120,000 in rent from the taxpayer, which Mr Cameron condemned as "indefensible".

Shortly after the Commissioner's report, Sir Nicholas claimed that Mr Cameron's "mafia" wanted to force him and his wife out, but insisted he was determined to fight the next election. Leaked details of their expenses claims over the past four years disclosed that Sir Nicholas claimed for £41,508 in rent, while his wife claimed £41,584. She also submitted claims for nearly £11,000 in service charge bills for the flat.

Lady Winterton also claimed for a £67 towel rail, an £18 "toilet brush holder" and a £16.99 "loo handle", as well as £165 to cover chairs at the flat and a £94 iron and ironing board.

The couple – who moved out of the flat and ended the claims after being criticised by Mr Lyon – also claimed a total of £11,410 for food.

In a letter to Mr Cameron, Sir Nicholas wrote: "We have reached the conclusion that we should pass the baton to a younger person because both Congleton and Macclesfield deserve the very best." Macclesfield and Congleton are regarded as safe Tory seats and there will be fierce selection battles.

In the latest expenses revelations published in The Daily Telegraph today, the husband of the former Foreign Office minister Meg Munn is said to have been paid with public funds to provide tax advice for government ministers, including the Foreign Secretary David Miliband. Dennis Bates, who also serves as his wife's paid parliamentary assistant, has also acted as a paid adviser to his wife with regard to her tax returns. The Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron, the Local Government minister John Healey and the Schools minister Jim Knight are also among those to have employed Mr Bates for tax advice, contributing to a total of more than £5,000.

Meanwhile, Labour sought to regain the initiative on expenses ahead of the 4 June European Parliament elections by announcing that in future its MEPs will publish all receipts for the £44,000-a-year office allowance. But it was thrown on the defensive by the disclosure that eight cabinet ministers claimed £11,000 between them for accountants' help in completing their tax returns. The ministers, who include the Chancellor Alistair Darling, were reimbursed from the office allowance available to MPs. A Labour source insisted that the accountancy bills were allowed under Commons rules as they related to their work as MPs.

It also emerged yesterday that eight cabinet ministers claimed for digital cameras or camcorders from their office allowances. Jacqui Smith charged £242.10 for an Apple iPhone to be used by her husband, who runs her constituency office.

Three members of the Cabinet claimed for media training. They included Labour's deputy leader, Harriet Harman, who was said to have charged the taxpayer more than £10,000 for advice from media consultant Scarlett McGwire.

From bags to wreaths

What you can claim for...

*Apple iPhone Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed for £242.10 for one – 90 per cent of its cost – to help her husband run her constituency office.

*Carrier bag Former cabinet minister Andrew Smith got back 50p for an Ikea bag.

*Biscuits The taxpayer bought Labour MP Austin Mitchell a 67p packet of Sainsbury's Ginger Crackle biscuits.

*Manure Tory grandee David Heathcoat-Amory claimed more than £380 of horse manure – or 550 bags – for his garden.

*Massage chair Justice minister Shahid Malik was sitting more comfortably after getting a £730 massage chair for his bad back on expenses.

*Trouser press Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne put in a £119 bill for a Corby trouser press, finished in mahogany.

What you can't clam for...

*Wreath Schools Secretary Ed Balls' claim for two poppy wreaths used for a Remembrance service was thrown out.

*Duck island Tory grandee Sir Peter Viggers failed to get £1,645 for an ornate home for his ducks – but the claim ended his political career.

*Christmas cards International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander was told to pay his £750 bill for 4,000 cards himself.

*Hair straighteners Sarah McCarthy-Fry, an Education minister, was told she would not be reimbursed for the £99.50 hair stylers as they were a "personal item".

*Hanging basket Housing minister Margaret Beckett's £600 for hanging baskets and pot plants was refused as they were not essential for running her home.

*Pigskin wallet The Tory MP Derek Conway claimed £160 in vain.