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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 21:45 GMT
MPs pledge broad expenses probe
Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton with his wife Ann, outside Buckingham Palace
The Wintertons say they have done nothing wrong.
A "root and branch" inquiry is to be carried out into all aspects of MPs' expenses, after days of allegations of improper use of public money.

Earlier, Commons Speaker Michael Martin said the estimates committee would seek a solution "as soon as is practicable".

But committee members Sir Stuart Bell, Nick Harvey and David Maclean are not expected to report until the autumn.

It comes after MP Derek Conway had the Tory whip withdrawn over payments to his son out of his MP's allowance.

And husband and wife Tory MPs Sir Nicholas and Ann Winterton have defended using expenses for a flat, even though they had paid the mortgage.

'Deep concerns'

In a statement earlier Mr Martin said the estimates committee, which he chairs, would be considering how to proceed "urgently" and said an "acceptable solution" must be found.

The BBC has learned an inquiry will be carried out by committee members - Labour MP Sir Stuart, Lib Dem Mr Harvey, and David Maclean, a Conservative MP who tried to stop the Freedom of Information Act applying to members of the House of Commons.

We no longer own the flat and, in order to meet the objectives and terms of the trust, we are obliged to pay the full market rent
The Wintertons

In a letter to MPs, Mr Martin said: "The review must consider a wide range of complex issues.

"The Members Estimate Committee agreed that this will require a root-and-branch examination of the current system and that the review should build its options for reform on the existing regime governing allowances."

Options on expenses and allowances will then be presented in the autumn. BBC political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg said they could include "spot checks" on a selection of MPs by the National Audit Office.

Public transparency

Other options could include a ban on the recruitment of relatives to posts paid from public funds and a full register of MPs' parliamentary staff.

Earlier Mr Martin said "several" MPs had "expressed deep concerns about members' allowances".

He told MPs: "Similar anxiety about the system has been relayed to me privately. We must also take into account the public interest in public transparency."

Speaker
Mr Martin said MPs had expressed "deep concerns" over allowances

The Wintertons transferred their second home - a flat in London - to a trust, to which they said they paid rent of 21,600 per year.

They said they had agreed the arrangement with the Commons Fees Office at the time it was set up and would not have gone ahead unless this had been the case.

The Wintertons, who both represent constituencies in Cheshire, say they had followed advice from their solicitor and accountants about their likely inheritance tax liability.

"We no longer own the flat and in order to meet the objectives and terms of the trust, we are obliged to pay the full market rent which is recommended by an independent valuer/estate agent," they said.

Conway sons

A report last week by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said there was no record of Mr Conway's younger son Freddie, a full-time student at Newcastle University, doing work at Westminster for him in return for 40,000 of taxpayers' money.

Mr Conway insists both Freddie, 22, and Henry 25, whom he employed earlier, did the job they were paid for.

Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon is also expected to decide this week whether to instigate a second inquiry into Mr Conway, focusing on payments to Henry.

The leaders of all three major political parties have urged MPs to reveal whether they employ family members, resulting in almost 180 confirming that they do.

Tory MP Ben Wallace has published his expenses in full, including payments to his researcher wife Liza.

Ex-cabinet minister Peter Hain confirmed that his mother, Adelaine, 80, works for him as a part-time secretary and was paid 5,400 last year.



SEE ALSO
In full: Wintertons' statement
04 Feb 08 |  UK Politics
Brown backs expenses transparency
31 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Is 'honourable' system set to end?
31 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Conway to step down at election
30 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Family jobs ban for MPs suggested
30 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Conway case 'reported to police'
29 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
In full: Derek Conway's statement
29 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
Tory MP Conway says 'I'm sorry'
28 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
In full: Derek Conway's response
28 Jan 08 |  UK Politics
MPs and employment of relatives
28 Jan 08 |  UK Politics

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