Labour's former Europe minister faces police inquiry over expenses

Michael Savage,Political Correspondent
Friday 15 October 2010 00:00

A former Labour minister has become the latest MP to face a police investigation into his expenses claims after his case was referred to Scotland Yard by Parliament's sleaze watchdog.

Denis MacShane, who served as Europe minister under Tony Blair, was also suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party yesterday after it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had been asked to examine his claims by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon.

As well as looking at the Rotherham MP's case, which had been under examination by the Standards Commissioner for more than a year, it also emerged that the Metropolitan Police were examining "a small number of other allegations" over his expenses. Three former MPs, one current MP and two peers are already defending charges that they abused the system.

Mr MacShane was criticised in 2009 over a series of revelations about his parliamentary expenses. His claims, which amounted to £125,000 over seven years, included a £20,000-a-year bill for an office located in the garage of his constituency home.

He was also criticised for claiming on eight laptop computers over three years. Records revealed he had invoiced for translation work carried out for him by the European Policy Institute, controlled by his brother.

Mr MacShane has denied any wrongdoing. Yesterday he said: "I have been informed by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that he has written to the Metropolitan Police in connection with his inquiry into a complaint against me filed in June 2009. While I obviously regret this development I will of course co-operate fully with the police, as I have with the commissioner."

It is thought to be the first time the commissioner has passed on a case to police. The Standards and Privileges Committee, a group of MPs which endorsed Mr Lyon's decision to refer the case to Scotland Yard, agreed to the move at a meeting on Tuesday.

Mr MacShane has been one of the most vocal opponents of the reformed expenses system, overseen by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa). In August, the authority released accounts of incidents in which its staff had been abused by MPs after a Freedom of Information request. Following the revelations, Mr MacShane admitted he had bought an Ipsa volunteer a box of chocolates after reducing them to tears during an argument.

"This all stems from the very hectic, tense, exhaustive period just after the election," he said at the time, adding that he disputed the authority's account of events.

He reportedly added that Ipsa "should not be keeping secret files on MPs without informing them" and that it would be easier to "learn Chinese" than master the new expenses system.

The Labour Party was quick to act after Scotland Yard confirmed it was to investigate Mr MacShane's claims, immediately withdrawing the whip from the long-serving MP.

"The Labour Party has today suspended Denis MacShane from the Parliamentary Labour Party and the whip pending the outcome of any investigation," a spokesman said.

Another MP was also censured for a breach of parliamentary expenses rules yesterday. Bill Wiggin, the Tory MP for North Herefordshire, was told to make an embarrassing apology to the House of Commons after he claimed £11,000 for mortgage payments on the wrong home.

He claimed the sum for his property in Ledbury, rather than his second home in London. The Parliamentary Standards and Privileges Committee said no public money had been lost as a result of the mistake, but it did order him to pay back £4,009 in telephone, electricity and maintenance bills wrongly claimed.

"As requested by the committee I have apologised for my mistakes, which were purely accidental, and paid back the money they say I overclaimed six years ago," Mr Wiggin said last night.

"The committee clarified that although I did not break the rules, as they were then, they have on the balance of probability estimated that I overclaimed. I have immediately complied with the committee's request."

Parliamentarians in court

Elliot Morley

The former Labour MP for Scunthorpe has been charged with two counts of false accounting in relation to "shadow mortgage" repayments.

David Chaytor

The former Labour MP for Bury North will appear in court after being charged in February with three counts of false accounting. It is alleged that he claimed £1,950 for IT services using false invoices.

Jim Devine

The former Labour MP for Livingstone will appear in court accused of claiming £3,240 for cleaning services and £5,505 for stationery.

Eric Illsley

The current MP for Barnsley Central, who has been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, will appear in court accused of three charges under the Theft Act.

Lord Hanningfield

The peer, who is currently suspended from the Conservative Party, is accused of submitting claims "for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled".

Lord Taylor

Another peer currently suspended from the Tory Party, he is charged with six counts of false accounting in relation to alleged claims for £24,300 in subsistence costs.

* All six deny the charges against them.

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