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Labour rocked as sleaze scandal deepens

THE Labour Party faced fresh embarrassment last night as one of its fastest rising stars was engulfed by the expenses scandal.

It was reported that justice minister Shahid Malik rented a house from a convicted slum landlord.

Mr Malik claimed nearly 67,000 over three years for a London townhouse from taxpayers while paying just 100 a week – well below market rent – from his own pocket for his "main residence".

In his Dewsbury constituency, Mr Malik rented the bargain three-bedroom property from a local landlord who was fined for letting an "uninhabitable" house.

The revelation will embarrass Gordon Brown further on a day when he was forced to suspend a former minister from the parliamentary Labour Party for claiming 16,800 for a mortgage that had already been paid off.

Elliot Morley, the former agriculture minister, was stripped of the party whip and his role as the Prime Minister's envoy on climate change, over revelations he had claimed on a non-existent mortgage for 18 months.

The Scunthorpe MP also faces a police investigation after campaigners laid a complaint against him with Scotland Yard.

Meanwhile, the Tories also continued to be plagued by the expenses row, as David Cameron's parliamentary aide, Andrew MacKay, was forced to quit his frontline role over mortgage claims. The controversy surrounding Mr Malik capped off a disastrous day for the government, however, which saw Mr Brown's launch of Labour's campaign for the Euro elections overshadowed with the expenses story.

Mr Malik had been tipped as a "rising star" in Labour from his election in 2005.

On his website, he states that he hoped to "help make Britain a more just society in his new role as a minister for justice".

But last night it emerged he claimed 66,827 over three years for his London property.

He claimed 23,083 – equivalent to 443 per week – for his London home, while also renting a constituency office from the same man who gives him his discounted home, Tahir Zaman.

Perhaps his most controversial claim was for a 2,600 home cinema system, which Commons officials agreed to only pay half for. A claim for an iPod and a portable DVD player in the same year were rejected.

Mr Malik also received a 730 massage chair courtesy of the taxpayer for a "back problem".

The MP also claimed 65 for a court summons for the non-payment of a council tax courts summons. He said last night he would repay the amount.

Mr Zaman said last night he could not give any details about the house he rented to Mr Malik. He vigorously denied being a "slum landlord" and claimed he was on a council list of accredited landlords.

Last night, Mr Malik strongly denied wrongdoing in a statement. However, he refused to discuss his rental agreement, saying: "That is my private business." He added:

"I have not broken any rules."

His difficulties came as former international development secretary Clare Short came under scrutiny for over-claiming 8000 in mortgage payments. Ms Short had claimed for both her interest and repayments on her loan, although Commons rules stipulate only the interest can be claimed back.

Ms Short said it was an "honest mistake" when she switched from an interest-only to a repayment mortgage after she left the government in 2003.

Meanwhile, scandal also spread to the House of Lords yesterday, after a committee of peers recommended the suspension of two Labour members of the upper House over the "cash for amendments" scandal.

Lord Truscott, a former minister, and Lord Taylor of Blackburn were set to be axed from the Lords for six months when peers vote next week.

But the biggest headache for the government was the extraordinary decision to suspend Mr Morley, which was revealed by Mr Brown as he launched Labour's European election campaign in Derbyshire.

The Prime Minister said: "The highest standards have got to be upheld in public life. Where there is irregularity now, it has got to be dealt with immediately. Where disciplinary action is necessary it will, and will immediately, be taken."

The Morley case is to be discussed next week by Labour's ruling National Executive Committee, sparking rumours he may be expelled from the party altogether.

The suspension of Mr Morley is the first disciplinary action taken by the main parties since the expenses revelations began last week. It came shortly after Mr Cameron's Commons aide Andrew MacKay resigned over claims made by him and his wife under the controversial second homes allowance.

As the crisis escalated on both sides of the political divide, the Taxpayers' Alliance urged Scotland Yard to begin a fraud investigation into Mr Morley's case.

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: "We have received and are currently considering a number of complaints in relation to alleged misuse of expenses, but no decision has been taken on whether to investigate."

Mr Morley yesterday issued a statement apologising for his "sloppy accounting", while also criticising the "shambolic" Commons system. He said he had paid back more than 16,000.

Earlier, he confirmed that in 2006 and 2007, he had continued to claim expenses of 800 a month for mortgage interest payments on his constituency home in Scunthorpe during 2006 and 2007 for 18 months after the loan had been repaid. He said he did his accounts in "yearly bundles" and did not notice that he had over-claimed until the receipts were published recently.

The Labour MP has also been accused of "flipping" his designated second home from the Scunthorpe house to his London property in November 2007. He rented this out to another Labour MP, Ian Cawsey, taking 1,000 in rent from him while Mr Cawsey claimed the money back from the taxpayer.

Mr Cawsey has denied knowing anything about Mr Morley's financial arrangements.

Mr Morley's suspension came as MPs from all parties left Westminster for the week braced to face furious constituents after days of revelations, among them expenses claims for chandelier cleaning, granite worktops and the dredging of a moat.

Mr MacKay is married to fellow Tory MP Julie Kirkbride, and the pair each claimed expenses on separate homes. While Mr MacKay, the MP for Bracknell, claimed 140,952 over the past seven years for the London home he shared with his wife, Ms Kirkbride claimed 141,779 for a second home she bought in her Bromsgrove constituency.

This meant the couple had all their accommodation costs met in London and in the constituency. Mr Cameron said the "double dipping" was unacceptable.

Hours later, Mr Morley, who was also stripped of his role as Mr Brown's climate-change envoy, reported himself to Parliament's Standards Commissioner.

Meanwhile, London mayor Boris Johnson suggested that there could be a case for the police to investigate the expenses claims. He said: "I think, frankly, looking at some of these cases it looks to me as though Plod needs to come in.

"I must be careful what I say here because I am chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, but it looks to me as though some people may very well have a serious case to answer."

IN DETAIL

&#149 ELLIOT MORLEY: The former agriculture minister claimed 16,000 for interest on a mortgage for more than 18 months after the loan had been repaid. The MP for Scunthorpe said he had repaid the money, adding: "I have a made a mistake."

&#149 CLARE SHORT: The former international development secretary claimed the full cost of her mortgage for two and a half years, despite being entitled to charge only for the interest. When she was asked by the Commons fees office to repay more than 8,000, she sent a letter back saying officials "should accept some responsibility" for not spotting the error earlier.

&#149 SHAHID MALIK: The justice minister ran up the highest expenses claim of any MP, claiming second home allowances of 66,827 over three years on his house in London. He denied breaking any rules, saying the expenses system was flawed.

&#149 HARRY COHEN: The Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead claimed thousands of pounds for redecorating his second home before selling it, and charging taxpayers 12,000 in stamp duty and fees on a new property, plus new furniture.

He also claimed 4.25 for baby wipes and 8.75 for shaving oil – not allowable expenses. He is willing to pay this back.

&#149 JOHN MAPLES: Deputy chairman of the Conservative Party claimed the maximum second home allowance while registering the RAC private members' club in London's Pall Mall as his principal residence. He denied declaring it as his main home, saying it had been his London "base".

&#149 AUSTIN MITCHELL: The veteran Labour back-bencher is said to have submitted claims for food items, including biscuits worth 67p, Branston pickle (68p) and a bottle of malt whisky (22.99).

&#149 STEPHEN CRABB: The Preseli Pembrokeshire MP claimed his main home was a room in a flat rented by another MP after buying a new family home in Wales, claiming 9,300 in stamp duty. He had previously "flipped" his second home from another London flat that was sold for a profit after an 8,000 taxpayer-funded refurbishment. He said his claims were "always within the letter and spirit of the rules".

Anti-sleaze campaigner Bell tells MPs: Pay back all 'vanity claims' now

A FORMER anti-sleaze MP has called on all politicians to pay back "vanity claims" rather than waiting for committees to make decisions for them.

Martin Bell, the former independent MP for Tatton, who ousted Neil Hamilton in one of the safest Conservative seats in the country after a "cash for questions" scandal, said he was shocked at the claims.

His remarks to The Scotsman came as controversy raged over even minor claims, such as the SNP Westminster leader Angus Robertson's 20 corkscrew.

But Mr Bell – who said he could have claimed 50,000 extra in expenses over and above what he legitimately used in his four years in parliament – warned all MPs not to delay paying back any items that seemed out of line.

"It will be the little items that stick in the public's craw, such as Jacqui Smith's 88p claim for a bathplug," he said. "These are the things that will cause real political damage."

The SNP has pledged to put all the expenses of its seven MPs on its website every quarter. Mr Robertson, the party's Westminster leader, was furious the SNP had been blocked from sitting on a parliamentary committee set up to reform allowances. He said: "This calls into question the Prime Minister's commitment to involve all parties in the reform process."

 
 
 

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