Three more heads roll over expenses scandal
THREE MPs announced their intention to quit at the next election yesterday after intense criticism of their parliamentary expenses.
Conservative back-bencher Julie Kirkbride followed her husband, Andrew MacKay, in announcing her departure from parliament.
The former Labour whip Margaret Moran, who represents Luton South, has also announced that she will be standing down.
Christopher Fraser, the Tory MP for South West Norfolk, became the latest casualty last night when he said he would not seek re-election because of his wife's "ongoing health problems". His claims included 1,800 for 215 trees and fencing to encircle the grounds of his home.
First to reveal she was leaving was Ms Kirkbride. After days of speculation, she announced she was leaving following the public outcry at the latest revelation, that her mortgage costs had risen because of an extension to her constituency home.
She cancelled a meeting with her Bromsgrove constituents yesterday – at which she was expected to face a hostile public grilling – shortly after having a telephone conversation with party leader David Cameron.
While Ms Kirkbride apologised, she cautioned that the controversy could put off other working mothers from entering politics.
She said she had needed the extension so that her brother, who provided free childcare for her, did not have to share a room with her son.
"I understand people are angry about the way MPs' expenses operate … and I can understand why questions are being raised," she said. "Every busy working mother knows how difficult it is to get childcare that completely fits around what they need to do. For me, it was simply ideal that my brother was prepared to fill this gap."
Mr Cameron seemed to give her his support in an exchange of emotive letters, despite speculation at Westminster that he had cut her adrift. He also seemed to give credence to the suggestion that Ms Kirkbride's claims had been complicated because she was a mother.
He wrote: "The public are rightly angry at what has happened over MPs' expenses. If we are to rebuild trust in politics, it is essential that there is thorough and urgent reform. But it is also extremely important that part of that reform should include better ways of enabling women to combine the roles of politician and mother."
Earlier this month, Mr Cameron sacked Andrew MacKay, Ms Kirkbride's husband, as his parliamentary aide, when it emerged the couple had claimed 170,000 in second home allowances. Both Tory MPs had claimed second home allowances on different homes.
Ms Moran, who is being investigated by Labour's disciplinary panel, announced she would quit at the next general election. She had claimed for dry-rot treatment on her partner's house, miles from her constituency.
Like Ms Kirkbride, Ms Moran suggested that it was a struggle to combine family life with being an MP.
Children's Secretary Ed Balls, who is married to Cabinet minister Yvette Cooper, yesterday said family commitments could not be an excuse for breaking expenses rules.
Asked by The Scotsman if he had sympathy with the MPs' situation, he said: "If you have two Members of Parliament in one house, and children, you can't fit into that traditional model, and therefore it is more complicated."
However, he added: "That doesn't take away from the fact that if, as a Member of Parliament in a more complex role of having two MPs and small children, you do the wrong thing … then of course you should pay the price for that."
Several hours later, it was the turn of Tory Christopher Fraser who was scrutinised over claiming 1,800 to mark out the boundary of his home, to announce his retirement from politics. Mr Fraser said he wanted to spend more time with his ill wife.
Next, Tony McNulty, the employment minister, who is facing the threat of a police investigation over claiming a mortgage on a home his parents lived in, announced he was paying back the money.
The Harrow East MP handed back 2,600 received for mortgage interest payments on the property and another 455 for council tax.
And Tory MP John Butterfill, who claimed allowances on his 1.2 million mansion but paid no capital gains tax on a 600,000 profit from its sale, pledged he would look at repaying money.
Meanwhile, Esther Rantzen, the former TV presenter, said she was still thinking of standing as an independent MP in Luton South. She had threatened to stand in the seat if Ms Moran did not resign.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday led calls for MPs to be denied their summer recess of two and a half months until they had sorted out the expenses debacle.
Where money went and what they said
JULIE KIRKBRIDE, Tory MP, Bromsgrove
She claimed: 250 a month extra on mortgagerepayments after adding a 50,000 extension to her constituency home to house her brother, who lived there rent-free. Paid her sister 12,000 a year for secretarial work, which was carried out in Dorset, not her West Midlands constituency. She and her husband, Andrew MacKay, the Tory MP for Bracknell, claimed 170,000 for two "second homes". She claimed 1,000 of taxpayers' money to cover photographs of herself.
Her defence: She says she would not have been able to be an MP and working mother without her brother's help in caring for her son. Her sister logs on to her Westminster and constituency computer systems. She says she regrets following the advice of her husband on their second-home claims. And the photographs were needed for literature published in relation to parliamentary work.
CHRISTOPHER FRASER, Tory MP, South West Norfolk
He claimed: More than 1,800 in expenses to buy 215 trees and fencing, to mark out the boundary of his house. He also claimed 240 for a lawnmower and faced questions about designating a farmhouse in Dorset as his main home.
His defence: Fences and hedges were required "in order to provide security and privacy". He is to step down at the next general election, citing his wife's ill-health.
MARGARET MORAN, Labour MP, Luton South
She claimed: 22,500 to treat dry rot at a house in Southampton jointly owned with her partner. Over four years, she flipped her expenses between three properties in Westminster, Luton and Southampton, doing each up in turn.
Her defence: "I have done nothing wrong or dishonest in relation to my claim for expenses, and have at all times acted on advice from the Commons fees office in relation to my family home in Southampton."
MPs blasted for claims set to quit parliament
A "DIRTY dozen" of MPs have announced plans to quit parliament at the next general election in response to the expenses scandal.
Yesterday's casualties were Tories Julie Kirkbride and Christopher Fraser, MP for South West Norfolk, and Labour's Margaret Moran. Mr Fraser claimed more than 1,800 to buy 215 trees and fencing but insisted his decision had "nothing to do" with expenses.
The biggest casualty has been Speaker Michael Martin, who lost the support of the Commons for his handling of the affair – and who was blamed for bungling efforts to keep the claims secret. He will stand down as MP for Glasgow North East on 21 June, having spent more than 1,400 on chauffeurs in his constituency, including a trip to Celtic Park.
Ms Kirkbride's husband, Andrew MacKay, was forced to quit as David Cameron's parliamentary aide after orchestrating two "second home" claims simultaneously with his wife. Other casualties include Ian McCartney, the Scots-born former Labour chairman, who repaid 15,000 of expenses claims last year. He said he was quitting because of health problems, having undergone heart surgery several years ago. The Makerfield MP's claims included an 18-piece dinner set, champagne flutes and wine glasses, a 700 dining table and chairs and two sofas.
Sir Peter Viggers, veteran Tory MP for Gosport, claimed for a 1,645 duck island for his pond as part of a 30,000 gardening bill. He said he felt "ashamed" for his "ridiculous" error of judgment.
Douglas Hogg, a former Tory agriculture minister, claimed for the cost of dredging the moat around his country estate. Otherwise known as Viscount Hailsham, the Sleaford and North Hykeham MP agreed to pay back the 2,200 bill. He also claimed for piano tuning, stable repairs, and the salary for a housekeeper.
Anthony Steen, Tory MP for Totnes, claimed 87,729 in four years towards the upkeep of his 1 million mansion. Costs passed on to the public purse included tree surgery and a wrought iron fireplace. Mr Steen said people were "jealous" of his "very, very large house", adding: "What right does the public have to interfere with my private life? None."
Ben Chapman, Labour MP for Wirral South, was accused of claiming 15,000 in mortgage interest for a mortgage he was no longer paying.
Sir Nicholas & Ann Winterton, the Tory MP couple known as Mr & Mrs Expenses, claimed 120,000 to rent a flat from a trust controlled by their children over six years. The arrangement was condemned as "indefensible" by Tory leader David Cameron. Sir Nicholas, 71, and Lady Winterton, 68, said instead they could no longer "maintain the hectic pace" of political life.
Play family card at your peril: it may backfire
BOTH Julie Kirkbride and Margaret Moran have played the family-friendly card at their peril. The pair led yesterday's lemming-like charge by MPs to announce they were quitting, paying back expenses' money, or both.
In a last-ditch attempt to save her career, Ms Kirkbride tried to justify her expense claims in a newspaper article. Her defence hung on the fact that it was difficult to get affordable childcare, so she used her brother as her son's carer. It was difficult combining being an MP "with my life as a wife and a mum", she claimed. This was why she had to extend her home so they could each have a bedroom, Ms Kirkbride explained – and this is why all the complications arose.
David Cameron appeared to give the mummy martyr line credence by confirming that the Commons rules should be reformed to make them easier to comply with for working mothers.
It was a calculated move to send a signal that the Conservatives were women-friendly and family-friendly – but the message risks backfiring.
While Ms Kirkbride and her fellow Tory MP husband, Andrew MacKay, claimed 170,000 in allowances in four years on both their London house and Ms Kirkbride's constituency flat, ordinary working families do not enjoy subsidised housing, let alone cheap childcare.
While some MPs played the expenses fiddle, Ms Moran attempted to master the gender concerto.
She claimed thousands of pounds in dry-rot treatment on her partner's home, which is more than 100 miles from her constituency. Ms Moran explained that "any MP has to have a proper family life, they have to have support of their partner". While no-one would deny an MP the right to a family life, her assertion that taxpayers should have to pay for her partner's home miles away was met with incredulity.
The TV presenter Esther Rantzen has threatened to stand as an independent in her constituency. One piece of graffiti on Ms Moran's office door summed up MPs' hard-luck stories: "That's Life".
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east