Page last updated at 15:39 GMT, Friday, 15 May 2009 16:39 UK

Expense row minister steps down

Shahid Malik: 'Everything I've done is at the core of the rules'

Labour MP Shahid Malik has stepped down as justice minister pending an inquiry into claims about his expenses made in the Daily Telegraph.

Standards chief Sir Philip Mawer will investigate claims he failed to declare a subsidised rent.

Mr Malik insists he did not breach the ministerial code and he was "pleased" to have the chance to clear his name.

The MP - who is the biggest casualty yet of the expenses scandal - called for the media "bloodfest" to stop.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has asked Sir Philip, his official adviser on ministerial interests, to investigate the claims as quickly as possible and his report could come within days.

Mr Brown's spokesman stressed the expectation would be that Mr Malik would return to office if he was cleared and said no replacement was being appointed in the meantime.

Conservative leader David Cameron said MPs from all parties had made unjustifiable expenses claims and politicians must display leadership if Parliament was to regain the trust of the people.

'Financial benefit'

There is no suggestion Mr Malik broke Parliamentary rules on expenses, but his conduct as a minister is under scrutiny.

The Daily Telegraph alleges he claimed the maximum amount allowable - £66,827 over three years - on his second home in London - but obtained a discounted rent of £100 a week on his main family home in his Dewsbury constituency, which he paid out of his own pocket.

The thirst for blood from some elements of the media just seems like it's unstoppable
Shahid Malik, Labour MP

Mr Malik has described the claim about his rent as a "fabrication".

But Mr Brown's spokesman said it had to be investigated because, if true, it would represent a "potential financial benefit" that had not been part of Mr Malik's ministerial declaration and "this could represent a breach of the ministerial code".

It comes amid a rising tide of public anger at MPs from all parties, with former police chief Ray Mallon, now independent mayor of Middlesbrough, making a formal complaint to the Metropolitan Police and the Daily Mail launching a campaign to mount private prosecutions for fraud.

The scandal claimed its first victims on Thursday, with Labour former minister Elliot Morley being suspended pending an investigation into his expenses and Tory Parliamentary aide Andrew McKay quitting his post.

Writing on his Twitter page, Mr Morley said: "Dreadful day. Can't wait to put my side of the story. Now gone away for a few days."

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon said Gordon Brown had acted "decisively" in dealing with Labour MPs who had question marks surrounding their behaviour.

'Decimating democracy'

But opinion polling - and the barracking of MPs in the street and on BBC One's Question Time - suggest politicians face an uphill struggle to restore trust.

Conservative MP David Davies said he believed many MPs are considering quitting even if they have done nothing wrong as they feared they would be seen as "a thief on the make".

Margaret Beckett and Sir Menzies Campbell were heckled about claims on Question Time

"This whole thing has completely undermined the reputation generally of every single MP," the Monmouth MP told BBC Radio Wales.

"A lot of people are saying 'What's it all about, should we get out, have I had enough?'

"And I think a lot of them will find the public will be helpful in pushing them in that direction anyway."

Less than an hour before he announced he was stepping down, Mr Malik went on the offensive to claim endless media stories about expenses were in danger of "decimating" democracy.

'Angry and horrified'

Speaking from his Dewsbury constituency, he insisted he was "as straight as they come", and said he had asked the fees office for guidance before submitting claims and had stuck to the rules.

He said: "I have absolutely nothing to apologise for. I have done nothing wrong.

"I have not been at the periphery of the rules. I haven't abused the rules, I have been absolutely at the core of the rules."

HAVE YOUR SAY
Traditionally, I don't think many people had much trust in politicians. Since the scandal of the expenses abuse, that trust has all but vanished.
Phil Edwards, Connah's Quay

He said nearly every other MP in the country - including Tory leader David Cameron - had spent the same amount as him and the Tory-supporting Telegraph's reporting was politically motivated.

He pledged to donate £1,050 he claimed for a television to worthy local causes in his constituency.

But he added: "I am not doing it because I have done anything wrong... if I had done anything wrong I would be paying it back to the Parliamentary authorities."

He said the public "had a right to be angry and horrified" about what had emerged on expenses but he also rounded on the media, saying: "I think it's really important that we try to draw a line behind this... the thirst for blood from some elements of the media just seems like it's unstoppable."

'Honest mistake'

The Telegraph also singles out former cabinet minister Clare Short, who it says was paid £8,000 too much after she claimed on her second home for her full mortgage payments rather than just the interest.

The Birmingham Ladywood MP, who quit Labour over the Iraq war and now sits as an independent, said it was "an honest mistake", she repaid the sum in 2006 and said the paper was trying to "smear" all MPs.

Parliament is held in scorn
David Cameron

Addressing the latest revelations, Conservative leader David Cameron said all parties needed to act swiftly to stop Parliament from sliding further into "ridicule and contempt".

"Our politics is reviled. Parliament is held in scorn. Our people have had enough," he told party activists in Perth.

From now on, all Tory MPs will have to publish their expense claims online the moment they make them and those found to have made excessive claims will have to repay the money or face expulsion, Mr Cameron said.

"The decisions that we make and the actions that we take over the coming weeks and months will make all the difference in terms of whether we're going to have politics of despair and a parliament of disrepute or whether we can build a politics of hope," he added.

There's quite a lot of military accommodation in central London, most of it unused because the occupants are elsewhere at the moment
Andrew Watson, Milton Keynes

Mr Malik's troubles came as Labour slumped to its lowest ever opinion poll rating.

A YouGov poll of 1,814 people for The Sun newspaper suggests Labour support at a general election would be 22%, with the Conservatives on 41% and the Liberal Democrats on 19%. If repeated at a general election, the Conservatives would win with a Commons majority of 152.

Asked about voting intentions at next month's European elections the big gainers appear to be the UK Independence Party, with support at 15% - with the Lib Dems on 19%, Labour on 20% and the Conservatives on 29%. The Greens are on 6% and the BNP on 3%.

A ROUND-UP OF LOCAL PAPERS' REPORTS ON MPs' EXPENSES

MPs are going back to their constituencies for the first time since the expenses row broke out. We look at what they are facing from their local papers.

The local newspaper in Phil Hope's Corby and East Northants constituency, the Evening Telegraph, has been running a campaign to get him to repay his expenses. He agreed to pay back £41,709. Now it asks if voters can ever trust politicians again:

Phil Hope will be hoping his decision to repay his past five years' expenses claims will protect his career as an MP….But some voters say he is only giving back the money in an attempt to keep his seat - he won the last General Election with a majority of just 1,517 votes.


Political columnist for the Liverpool Daily Post , Rob Merrick, thinks this will have an effect on Labour in the next election but stands up for his local MPs:

Most incumbents - and, certainly, most in marginal seats - are Labour MPs, which means a voters' war on sitting MPs will be calamitous news for Gordon Brown… I spend time with the Merseyside MPs. I know they are hard-working and enter Parliament to improve the lives of their constituents - not to enrich themselves at taxpayers' expense.


William Green in the Journal says the Newcastle area's only Tory MP, Peter Atkinson, has revealed his expenses claims exclusively to the paper - mainly getting his chimney cleaned - and hopes it should put pressure on the other MPs there:

The region's only Tory MP has voluntarily revealed claiming thousands of pounds to replace windows, repair his chimney and buy a new garden shed on taxpayers. Hexham MP Peter Atkinson yesterday said transparency was vital as he exclusively opened his expenses to The Journal - which will put pressure on other MPs in the region to follow his lead.


The Leicester Mercury wasn't so lucky . It asked all its MPs what they think should happen about expenses but got no response from Keith Vaz:

A written request asking whether Mr Vaz would be paying any of his expenses claims back was ignored by his office yesterday. Two requests for an interview have also been rejected this week.


The Leicester Mercury also show a video of a campaigner digging a pound sign into Alan Duncan's garden:

The under-fire Conservative MP said on Tuesday he would pay back almost £5,000 in allowances for gardening work at his Rutland home.


At the news Hazel Blears would pay back £13,000, the The Salford Advertiser in Hazel Blears' constituency declared:

It's payback time.



The Irish Times looks at how MPs' expenses affect Northern Irish politics:

Sinn Fein is being rightly challenged on how it is spending public money, the party is denying that members are benefiting personally, unlike some MPs….The DUP's move to address some double-jobbing in the party can be seen as a response to deepening public disquiet on financial matters. Change is happening but politicians will have to engage in comprehensive reform in order to rebuild public confidence.


Lindy McDowell in the Belfast Telegraph says there doesn't seem to be a party untouched by what she calls a feeding frenzy:

Sinn Fein MPs who won't even take their seats at Westminster claim the cost of luxury rate rentals for London accommodation while local workers made redundant battle to keep a roof over their families' heads ...


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