Page last updated at 20:45 GMT, Saturday, 9 May 2009 21:45 UK

MPs hit back over expenses claims

Margaret Moran and Phil Woolas
Margaret Moran and Phil Woolas both attacked the Telegraph's report

MPs have been defending their expenses claims after more details were published in the Daily Telegraph.

Margaret Moran, Labour's Luton South MP, told the BBC the paper's report was "inaccurate" and "probably actionable".

The Telegraph alleged that she claimed over £20,000 for a house in Southampton 100 miles from her constituency.

Immigration minister Phil Woolas has also threatened legal action over "disgusting" allegations he claimed for women's clothing, nappies and comics.

The Telegraph said Ms Moran spent £22,500 on treating dry rot at the Southampton property, which she had designated as her second home.

Woolas: Items on receipts not claimed

In an interview for the Politics Show East to be broadcast on Sunday on BBC One at 1100 BST, Ms Moran insisted she had "done everything by the rules" and said the Telegraph article was "incredibly misleading".

It included "inaccuracies, some of which I think are probably actionable, and I think that it is deeply irresponsible", she added.

Meanwhile, Mr Woolas called the Telegraph's reporting "absolutely disgusting" and said he believed the newspaper's claims might be "actionable" and he was seeking legal advice.

The minister claims nappies and women's clothing were listed on a receipt for food which he submitted, but he did not receive any money for them.

Health minister Ben Bradshaw - MP for Exeter and minister for the South West - also says claims made about his expenses in Saturday's paper were factually wrong.

Labour ministers Phil Hope and Barbara Follett, as well as Tory MP Greg Barker, who were also named, say they have not broken parliamentary rules.

Police complaint

The Telegraph's latest story came a day after the paper published details of 13 Cabinet ministers' expenses. It plans to publish further revelations about MPs from other parties in the coming days.

Moran defends expenses claims

The Commons authorities have complained to the Metropolitan Police, who confirmed they were considering a request for an investigation into the leak to the paper.

The Telegraph also printed details of the expenses of Keith Vaz, a former minister who now chairs the home affairs select committee.

Mr Vaz reportedly claimed £75,000 for a Westminster flat although his family's home is 12 miles away in Stanmore.

He said that he had acted within the rules. He added that his designated home was in his Leicester constituency, the Westminster flat was his second home, and he made no claims for the home in Stanmore where his family lives.

The purchases I made were no more than was necessary to live in a habitable residence
Care services minister Phil Hope

The first prominent Conservative MP was also named by the paper. Shadow climate change minister Greg Barker denied he made a profit on the sale of a house by "working the expenses system".

He said the Telegraph story did not make clear "that there was a very substantial six-figure sum of my own money involved, that wasn't claimed for".

"It would be completely inaccurate and untrue for the Telegraph to allege that the difference in purchase and sale price represented a profit."

'Disgusting' reporting

Labour minister Barbara Follett claimed more than £25,000 for security at her home, but she said this met Commons rules and gave no further comment.

Mrs Follett's total bill for security patrols between 2004 and 2008 - which started after she was mugged - was £25,411.64, the paper said.

The wife of author Ken Follett and one of Parliament's richest MPs, she also claimed £528.75 for a Chinese needlepoint rug to be repaired and cleaned, but was only paid back £300 after it was deemed excessive, the Telegraph said.

The question you have to ask is who devised the system? MPs devised the system under their self-regulating arrangements

Sir Alistair Graham, ex-chairman, committee for standards in public life

She said the item not accepted was claimed in error and was one of the two occasions in the last 12 years her expenses claims had been queried.

Ms Follett said she and her husband had put far more money into running her constituency than they had ever claimed in allowances, and accused the newspaper of using "selective evidence" to focus on "mundane detail about the lives of Labour MPs".

Saturday's 11-page report also said care services minister Phil Hope had spent more than £37,000 over about four years on refurbishing and furnishing a two-bedroom south London flat.

Mr Hope said: "I claimed the cost of running and furnishing a flat in London, in full accordance with the rules that apply to members of Parliament.

"The purchases I made were no more than was necessary to live in a habitable residence and replacements only occurred when furniture and fittings were worn out. These items were then disposed of.

"I have not personally benefited from this process."

'Drip, drip'

Full details of all MPs' expenses dating back four years, running to 2.4 million receipts, were due to be published in the middle of July after the Commons authorities lost a Freedom of Information battle.

But instead, the Telegraph is revealing the information early.

Lib Dem MP Nick Harvey, a member of the House of Commons Commission, which is responsible for publishing the data, said it would be premature to release it while officials were still "getting it into a form where the public can make some sense out of it".

Former chairman of the committee for standards in public life, Sir Alistair Graham, said the expenses system had to be decided in the public and taxpayers' interest, by an independent outside body.

"It is depressing to keep hearing [MPs] saying 'well, it's the system that was wrong and we are changing the system'.

"The question you have to ask is who devised the system? MPs devised the system under their self-regulating arrangements and that's what must change for the future."

An ICM poll of 508 adults for the News of the World found that more than two-thirds of respondents said they believed the expenses revelations had damaged the prime minister.

Some 89% believed the reputation of parliament had been tarnished, and 91% said they wanted expenses records to be published in full straight away.

Labour's poll ratings have slumped to just 23% - lower than when Michael Foot was party leader in the 1980s - according to a survey of 2,246 people by BPIX for the Mail on Sunday.

A YouGov poll of 2,209 voters for the Sunday Times suggested Labour's support had dropped by seven percentage points to 27% - 16 points behind the Conservatives.



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