Almost 50 MPs have refused to tell the parliamentary authorities exactly what their office staff do and how much they are paid from public funds, it emerged yesterday.
One in 13 MPs have failed to meet their obligation to submit copies of their employees' contracts of employment, which detail their working hours and salary scales.
The failure to provide the details means that the House of Commons authorities have no idea whether the MPs are using their £90,000 staffing allowance properly – or if they are paying family members for work they have not done.
The Members Estimate Committee, which is charged with policing the use of parliamentary allowances, is now expected to demand that all MPs submit full details of their office spending before the start of the next session, in October. "We are supposed to be moving towards transparency, but these people still want to keep things under wraps," one member of the committee said yesterday.
The disclosure is the latest in a series of embarrassing developments for MPs as they attempt to respond to greater scrutiny from outside Parliament.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life is considering an inquiry into expenses after MPs rejected proposals put forward by the Members Estimates Committee on Thursday. MPs voted by a majority of 28 to retain the additional costs allowance – used to fund second homes – and to have their spending looked at only by internal rather than external auditors. The vote was seen as a blow for Gordon Brown, as he did not manage to persuade all of his own Cabinet to vote in favour of the reform.
The Prime Minister suffered a further setback yesterday as Labour's campaign to hold on to a parliamentary seat in Glasgow descended into farce less than three weeks before polling day.
City councillor George Ryan, the leading contender to be Labour's candidate in Glasgow East, stood down, citing "family reasons" after he missed a party meeting on Friday.
The announcement came amid rumours that allegations that Mr Ryan had been involved in a housing benefit fraud several years ago – of which he was cleared – were to be revived during the campaign.
Mr Ryan said he was removing his name from the shortlist of potential candidates "with regret". He said: "In the last 24 hours, I have come to recognise the pressures that this campaign would put on my family life, and I have taken the decision to put my family first."
The development deepens Labour's troubles in the constituency, after it was forced into a by-election by the resignation of MP David Marshall last week. Although the seat was one of the safest of Labour seats in Scotland, with a majority of 13,500, the party must fend off the challenge of a buoyant Scottish National Party on the back of two disastrous by-elections in in recent weeks.
Margaret Curran MSP, who had been seen as a possible Scottish Labour leader, is expected to be handed the candidacy this week, after Mr Brown failed to persuade the charismatic Glasgow City Council leader Steven Purcell to stand.
Ms Curran, who is Labour's health and well-being spokesman at Holyrood, was first elected to represent Glasgow Baillieston in 1999 and was re-elected in 2003 and 2007. She confirmed that she had added her name to the shortlist, saying she was "deeply committed" to the people of the city's east end.
Alex Salmond, the SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister, said Labour was in "complete meltdown".
He said: "This is their 'lost weekend'. They don't have a leader in Scotland; they don't have a candidate in Glasgow East, and they have a Prime Minister who refuses to come to the constituency. The combination of these extraordinary factors means that Labour has forfeited any right to represent the people of Glasgow East."
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