Former MPs blasted over expenses

By Peter Wozniak

The standards and privileges committee has condemned former MPs for their misuse of expenses.

The watchdog issued its verdict on complaints about the expenses claims of former Conservative MPs Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride – and cleared current MP Nadine Dorries of wrongdoing.

All three featured prominently at the height of the expenses scandal, with husband and wife Mr Mackay and Ms Kirkbride accused of designating each other’s property as their second home to extract the maximum amount of expenses payments.

Ms Dorries was claimed to have omitted to tell Commons authorities the addresses of first and third rented homes.

The committee however sympathised with the MP’s defence, judging that although she did indeed break the letter of the rules, she did not profit from the arrangement.

The report concluded: “We agree with him that this breach of the rules was not a serious one, and we are pleased that Ms Dorries has apologised for it ‘wholeheartedly and sincerely’. We make no recommendation on this point.”

The conclusion also found no wrongdoing, but some “discrepancies” between Ms Dorries blog and the information she provided to the Standards commissioner. Ms Dorries has earned a considerable amount of ire in the blogosphere.

The complaint about Ms Kirkbride “related solely to her claims for the cost of building an extension to her second home.

“We therefore offer no comment on Ms Kirkbride’s role in the funding from parliamentary allowances of the two homes she shared with Mr Mackay and we make no recommendation in respect of her”.

Her husband however did not escape so lightly.

The committee ruled that “Andrew Mackay breached the rules relating to second home allowances by wrongly designating his home in Bromsgrove as his main home for ACA [additional costs allowance] purposes and because his claims against ACA for his London home were not beyond reproach.

“It should have been obvious to Mr Mackay that the arrangement whereby he and Ms Kirkbride each designated the other’s second home as their main home, allowing both to be funded from Parliamentary allowances, was fundamentally wrong.

The former MP, who along with his wife did not stand for re-election in May, still denies he broke the rules, “when it is quite clear he did”.

Were Mr Mackay still an MP, he would have suffered additional sanctions, including suspension from the House.

The committee argued that “the very fact that Mr Mackay is no longer a member of parliament shows what a heavy political price he has paid. He has also repaid a considerable sum of money.”

It did, however, add: “We expect Mr Mackay, having read our report, to apologise for the breach in writing.”

The expenses scandal which erupted last year refuses to depart entirely from the news agenda, as three peers face tough sanctions from the House of Lords today over their claims – and four other parliamentarians are currently being prosecuted on criminal charges.