Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Saturday, 17 October 2009 09:29 UK

Legg 'had worries' on MP expenses

Sir Thomas Legg
Sir Thomas' stance on expenses has taken many MPs by surprise

The ex-civil servant who carried out the MPs' expenses audit had previously warned about a lack of clarity in the claim rules, the BBC is told.

Until recently Sir Thomas Legg sat on an audit committee set up in 2004 to consider MPs' pay and allowances.

Fellow committee member Nick Harvey MP says Sir Thomas raised concerns about the system "for a good many years".

He has been criticised for asking MPs to repay amounts in line with limits he has now set for second home claims.

Retrospective

Downing Street asked Sir Thomas to review all MPs' claims made under the controversial second homes allowance since 2004, after the expenses scandal broke in May.

A number of MPs, including the prime minister and several cabinet ministers, have been asked to repay the difference between what they claimed under the rules in place at the time, and what he thinks they should have claimed.

Sir Thomas Legg and David Taylor have been raising concerns about the expenses system for a good number of years"
Nick Harvey MP

Many MPs are expected to write to Sir Thomas to challenge the retrospective introduction of new limits.

However, according to Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey, Sir Thomas has long been unhappy with the previous expenses system.

Until recently, he was one of two external auditors of the Members' Estimates Audit Committee, which was set up in 2004 to consider matters relating to MPs' pay and allowances on behalf of the House of Commons.

"Sir Thomas Legg and David Taylor [the other external auditor] have been raising concerns about the expenses system for a good number of years," Nick Harvey told BBC Radio 4's Profile programme.

They were worried that the system was neither a very prescriptive one, nor one based on broad principles, but somewhere in between, which risked confusion.

"It has to be said," Nick Harvey added, "the external auditors and the Audit Committee as a whole did flag up that there was an iceberg there, and it shouldn't be that much of a shock that we subsequently hit it."

Moving the goalposts

However there are those who feel Sir Thomas has now gone too far by making his new recommendations retroactive.

Senior Labour backbencher Sir Stuart Bell explains that this feeling is linked to "the letter [Sir Thomas] wrote on 2 July which said 'I will review all payments in the light of the rules and guidelines of the time.'

"That was the astonishment, " he adds, "when in fact there was a movement there which some would say was a moving of the goalposts. And that has taken people by surprise".

Sir Thomas cannot force MPs to repay the money.

His final recommendations will go to the Commons Members Estimate Committee, which will then decide what to do next. The Committee is due to publish its report on 4 November.

LISTEN TO THE PROGRAMME
Profile, Radio 4, Saturday, 17 October at 1900 BST
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Profile will be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday, 17 October at 1900 BST. Or download the free podcast.



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