Page last updated at 15:34 GMT, Sunday, 28 June 2009 16:34 UK

Editor defends expenses coverage

A packed House of Commons
Some MPs complained they had been treated unfairly

The editor of the Daily Telegraph has defended his coverage of MPs' expenses, saying suggestions it had irreparably damaged Parliament were "rubbish".

Will Lewis told the BBC his paper's reports about MPs' claims would make Parliament more "open" and allow a "new generation" of people to be elected.

The coverage led to several MPs resigning and prompted major reforms.

But former Tory leader Michael Howard said some of the paper's coverage had been "inaccurate and unfair".

'Shock and awe'

Mr Lewis told the BBC's political editor Nick Robinson that the expenses scandal of the past two months - triggered by the paper's publication of the unedited details of MPs' expenses since 2004 - had had an "undeniably good" effect.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the saga began, he said suggestions his paper's actions had undermined Parliament and democracy were "complete rubbish".

"It is going to open up Parliament to a whole new generation of people who understand what it means to be an elected representative of British citizens," he told a special Radio 4 programme on the expenses affair, 'Moats, Mortgages and Mayhem'.

Parliament had "lost its moral authority" some time ago, he said, illustrated by the long fight by some MPs to block the publication of their expenses details.

"This is not my fault. I am the messenger who happened to be able to get this stuff and deliver it to people who should have been told this by MPs themselves."

Mr Lewis denied the coverage had been partisan, saying the paper had shone a light on the conduct of MPs from all parties with "the same vigour".

He said the extensive nature of the paper's disclosures was justified because of legitimate public interest in the story and the need to publish information quickly.

"I knew we did have to go, in effect, for shock and awe," he explained.

"The principle we were establishing here was that I know this information was true and the readers must know this as quickly as possible because this has gone on for too long unnoticed."

He added: "Why did we do this? Because they did not want us to see it."

'Tarred'

Mr Howard acknowledged the paper had performed a public service by exposing "real abuses" of the system.

But he said the paper had failed, in many cases, to distinguish the unethical from the innocent and that most MPs had been "tarred with the same brush".

"In doing so, I think they have in a number of cases been unfair, inaccurate and indeed, untruthful."

This was "bad for democracy and for the standing of MPs".

Police are currently investigating the conduct of a small number of MPs and peers over their expenses.

In response to the scandal, Gordon Brown has proposed new laws to transfer regulation of all expenses to an outside body as well as new offences for misconduct.

The Telegraph Group continued its coverage of Parliamentary pay and expenses by publishing details of MPs' income from second jobs on Sunday.



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