MPs ordered to repay expenses

2010-02-04 18:00

London - British lawmakers were ordered on Thursday to repay more than £1m of expenses after an investigation into a scandal that rocked parliament slammed a "deeply flawed" system.

The long-awaited review by former civil servant Thomas Legg found lawmakers must return £1.1m in payments received for loans on second homes, gardening and cleaning expenses.

Legg found that more than half of all members of parliament made inappropriate or excessive claims.

The scandal reached a peak last year when one MP for the opposition Conservatives, Peter Viggers, was found to have claimed more than £1 600 for a duck house to stand in a garden pond.

It was revealed on Thursday that the largest sum to be repaid was £42 458 by Barbara Follett, an MP from the ruling Labour party who is married to best-selling novelist Ken Follett.

Most of the money was spent on security patrols at the Folletts' second home, as well as more than £4 500 for what the audit said was an "excessive" six telephone lines at the property.


Many MPs are unhappy at the investigation, arguing they only claimed what they were entitled to under the rules at the time.

But Legg rejected complaints that he had imposed retrospective rules and spending limits for items such as gardening and cleaning and said the system had been "deeply flawed".

He insisted the regulations on the use of second home allowances stipulated they could "only be used as reimbursement for specific and proportionate expenditure on accommodation needed for the performance of parliamentary duties".

In a scathing assessment, Legg said that between 2004 and 2009 senior figures in parliament had been more focused on furthering the "immediate interests of MPs" than "propriety in public expenditure".

The row over expenses erupted in May when The Daily Telegraph published leaked details of thousands of claims, for everything from flatscreen TVs to a porn movie claimed by the husband of the then interior minister.

The scandal led to an overhaul of the expenses system, but not before dozens of MPs promised to stand down at a general election due by June, and a number resigned, including the speaker of parliament's lower House of Commons.

Gordon Brown's spokesperson said the prime minister, who himself was earlier asked to repay £12 888 for cleaning, decoration and gardening services, regarded Legg's report as "a very significant step forward".

"The PM said from the outset that this was a very important inquiry, that he fully supported the approach and he encouraged MPs to pay back - as he did - as quickly as possible," the spokesperson said.