David Cameron's problems over "Tory sleaze" deepened last night amid allegations that the Conservative Party chairman Caroline Spelman paid her nanny out of her parliamentary allowances.
Ms Spelman faced a possible investigation by Commons anti-sleaze watchdogs into whether she should have paid Tina Haynes from public money while she was working for her family. Although the arrangement took place 11 years ago, it is potentially embarrassing for Mr Cameron. As Tory chairman, Ms Spelman has a key role in upholding the high standards of probity and transparency demanded by Mr Cameron as he tries to prevent a return of the sleaze allegations which haunted the last Tory government led by John Major.
This weekend, Ms Spelman had been due to investigate the expenses of Giles Chichester, a Tory MEP who diverted more than £400,000 of allowances into a family firm of which he was a director. After she demanded an explanation, he resigned on Thursday as leader of the Tory MEPs.
A Conservative spokesman told BBC2's Newsnight programme that Ms Haynes was also Ms Spelman's constituency secretary and that after entering the Commons as MP for Meriden in the West Midlands in 1997, her home was also her constituency office.
The spokesman said that between May 1997 and some time in 1998, the MP paid Ms Haynes from her Commons staffing allowances for working from 9am to 3pm three days a week on secretarial work such as opening letters, sorting them and arranging files for constituency meetings. Outside these hours, she provided child care but was not paid, instead receiving free accommodation and meals and the use of a car.
But Ms Haynes told the programme that she did not do political work. "Once or twice a week you'd get the odd phone call from other MPs. Mr [William] Hague [then Tory leader] rang a couple of times and obviously I took messages if he rang and passed them on.
"I did obviously do odd secretarial things for her. And obviously if there were any documents that she needed posting ... I did things like that for her." But she said the vast bulk of her work involved child care.
Ms Haynes worked for Ms Spelman for a total of five and a half years. However, the MP stopped paying her with taxpayers' money in 1998 after discussing the arrangement with James Arbuthnot, then the Tory Chief Whip.
A Tory spokesman said that when Mr Arbuthnot became aware of what Ms Spelman was doing he told her to "separate her arrangements". Soon afterwards, she appointed a new constituency secretary.
Kevan Jones, a Labour backbencher, claimed there was "a big question mark" over Ms Spelman's use of her expenses and the matter may have to be referred to John Lyon, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner. "Clearly old habits die hard in the Tory party, despite what its leader says. If she can't explain how she spent these expenses, it has to be referred to the Commissioner," he said.
Last night's revelations are a setback to Mr Cameron. He had appeared to have prevented a return of the "Tory sleaze" label after removing the party whip from Derek Conway, the MP who paid his two sons as researchers from Commons allowances while they were full-time students.
The Tory leader then demanded new disclosures from his MPs who employed family members. He also took a close interest in the disclosures about Mr Chichester.
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