Page last updated at 19:56 GMT, Tuesday, 3 March 2009

MP Spelman told to repay 9,600

Caroline Spelman
Mrs Spelman said she would repay the money immediately

Caroline Spelman must repay 9,600 of the Commons expenses she used to pay for nannying work - but any breach of the rules was "unintentional", MPs say.

The Commons standards and privileges committee said the senior Tory MP had accepted its findings and "will pay back the misapplied sums".

Mrs Spelman who had denied any wrong-doing apologised unreservedly after the committee's report was published.

She said payments to Tina Haynes in 1997/8 had been for secretarial work.

The allegation was that she had worked primarily as a nanny while being paid as a part-time constituency secretary.

Mrs Spelman, MP for Meriden in the West Midlands and shadow communities secretary, had insisted Ms Haynes was only paid with public funds for secretarial work between 1997 and 1998.

'Odd phone call'

Her nannying duties were rewarded separately with free board and lodging, she has said.

But asked by the BBC last year about the extent of her administration duties, Ms Haynes said she had only posted letters, "took the odd phone call" and passed on messages "once or twice a week".

Mrs Spelman referred the allegation herself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon last year in an effort to clear her name.

I fully accept people have a right to expect the highest standards from people in public life
Caroline Spelman MP

Following the publication of the committee's report, she said: "I fully accept the findings of this inquiry which I sought because I wanted the opportunity to clear my name.

"I am glad the committee finds that the work done by Tina Haynes met a genuine need for an assistant in the constituency, that she was qualified to do the job and that the work was done.

"However, as the committee notes, the arrangements had the unintended effect of misapplying some of my parliamentary allowances for non-parliamentary purposes, for which I am sorry.

"This is a finding which I take very seriously and I will of course immediately pay the money in question back."

'Frenzied time'

She added: "It took place more than a decade ago when I was a new MP.

"But I apologise sincerely for it. I fully accept people have a right to expect the highest standards from people in public life."

In its report, the committee notes that, following the sudden death of the sitting MP for Meridien, Iain Mills, Mrs Spelman "had little time in which to prepare for membership of the House".

It adds that "her limited familiarity with the rules of the House at the time is understandable".

The report goes on: "Mrs Spelman also faced a backlog of constituency casework which had accumulated following the death of her predecessor and... this must have placed her under additional pressure at what was a frenzied time."

The committee says it does not "believe that it was in any way wrong for Mrs Spelman to combine in one person the dual roles of nanny and administration assistant" but the case was "solely about how those dual roles were remunerated".

The MP has been "entirely open" about the dual roles and has "cooperated fully", while the breach was "unintentional", the report adds.

The arrangement with Ms Haynes ended after the Conservative Party's chief whip told Mrs Spelman it could be "open to misinterpretation", and she appointed a new constituency secretary.

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