Page last updated at 17:10 GMT, Friday, 22 January 2010

Labour MP may lose retirement pay-off over expenses

Harry Cohen
Mr Cohen has been ordered to apologise to the Commons

A Labour MP faces being stripped of a £65,000 allowance for retiring MPs after a "serious" breach of the rules over his expenses claims.

Harry Cohen, who is standing down at the election, is the first MP to be told he should lose the allowance since the expenses scandal began.

A report found the MP breached the rules on second home claims involving a "large sum of public money".

Mr Cohen has also been told that he must apologise to Parliament.

'Not entitled'

The Labour MP for Leyton and Wanstead was criticised for claiming more than £70,000 in second home allowances for a property in his constituency at a time his designated main home, in Colchester, was being let out for long periods.

A report by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner found that the Colchester home "could not be regarded as his home for the purpose of claiming parliamentary allowances" as he was not living there.

Withholding of the resettlement grant is a severe sanction which will effectively recover from Mr Cohen a similarly large sum of public money
Committee on Standards and Privileges

As an MP from an outer London constituency, the report says, he should instead have claimed a London supplement that would have entitled him to £9,000 over the same period.

Consequently, the report concludes that Mr Cohen received more than £60,000 in public money "to which he was not entitled".

The Standards and Privileges Committee, which has the power to recommend sanctions for MPs over their expenses, said the breach was particularly serious and involved a large sum of public money.

'Sympathy'

It said it had "sympathy" for the MP because his wife had been battling serious illness and stressed the MP's "personal situation" should be taken into account when the case was considered by Parliament.

Mr Cohen argued that he had always designated the Colchester property as his main home and there were periods when it was not let and he was living there.

He said his circumstances were unusual because his wife's illness required them to spend more time in the constituency.

But he said he would abide by whatever decision the committee reached.

Given the seriousness of the breach, the committee is recommending that he be stripped of the "resettlement" allowance paid to MPs who stand down between elections - which, in his case, would amount to about £65,000.

"Withholding of the resettlement grant is a severe sanction which will effectively recover from Mr Cohen a similarly large sum of public money," the committee says.

Findings accepted

The recommendation will now be debated in the Commons, where Mr Cohen will be entitled to speak on the matter, with a final decision being taken by MPs.

In a statement, the Labour Party said the report into Mr Cohen's conduct had been thorough and the MP had accepted its findings.

"The Parliamentary authorities have taken appropriate action and brought the matter to a conclusion," it said.

It added that the MP had already announced he would not be contesting his seat at the upcoming election.

In its report on reforming MPs' expenses in November, the Committee on Standards in Public Life said the sanction of withholding the resettlement grant should be used in the most serious cases of misconduct.

The chairman of the new external body which is taking control of overseeing expenses claims has suggested that resettlement grants - which are calculated on the basis of the length of time an MP has been in Parliament - could be abolished totally in future.



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