Page last updated at 15:25 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Tory expenses clampdown announced

Nick Bourne AM
Nick Bourne has led the assembly's Conservative group since 1999

The Welsh Conservatives are promising to introduce 'robust guidelines' for their assembly members expenses claims.

An allowance committee will write the rules, following criticism of claims by party leader Nick Bourne, including one for an iPod which he has since repaid.

A statement after a shadow cabinet meeting in Cardiff Bay said Tory AMs gave their leader "unanimous support".

Mr Bourne maintains he has faced a "witch hunt", and said all parties need to address issues surrounding expenses.

He was heavily criticised after it emerged in a breakdown of assembly members' allowances that he, and fellow Conservative AM Alun Cairns, had claimed for portable music players worth a combined 398.

Welsh Conservatives are determined to draw up the most robust guidelines possible
Welsh Conservative statement

Mr Bourne also claimed more than 5,000 over the past two years for his bathroom and 120 to buy trouser press.

But he said some newspaper coverage of allowance claims, which were all within the rules, had been "near hysterical".

Mr Bourne argues other AMs have made "massive claims for meals" and for other items of expenses, also within the rules.

He told reporters this week that he would not name the politicians concerned "because I don't want a witch hunt against individual members because I've suffered from a witch hunt myself".

"I accept that there is an issue here that needs to be addressed, but it needs to be addressed by all political parties and we do need to keep a sense of balance and a sense of proportion on this issue," Mr Bourne said.

The announcement on both the allowances committee's creation and support for Mr Bourne is an attempt to draw a line under the damaging expenses row so the party can focus on campaigning for the European elections in June.

A statement said: "In light of recent concerns raised about allowances claimed by AMs from all parties - all of which had been approved by the assembly's fees office and were within the rules - Welsh Conservatives are determined to draw up the most robust guidelines possible in relation to expenditure made by members of the group.

iPod
Mr Bourne said speeches and audio to help him learn Welsh were on his iPod

"We look forward to reading the recommendations of the Sir Roger Jones review into AMs expenses."

Another statement, on Mr Bourne's leadership, was issued 15 minutes earlier.

It read: "At a meeting of the shadow cabinet last night Welsh Conservative assembly members gave their unanimous support to Nick Bourne as leader of the assembly group.

"All members intend to move forward together, building on the successes the party has enjoyed in Wales over successive years.

"Members are also united in their determination to challenge the record of the Labour-Plaid assembly government, provide a strong, credible alternative to the current assembly administration, and to continue working in the interests of the people of Wales."

Welsh Labour said that statement "appears to be a desperate attempt to salvage the little credibility the Tories have left in Wales".

According to the Labour spokesperson, the Conservatives were doing "too little too late" about their expenses claims.

'Humiliating'

Internal disgruntlement with Mr Bourne's leadership began with the publication of what was described as the "dodgy dossier" on First Minister Rhodri Morgan's birthday in September.

He dissociated himself from the document's personal criticisms of Mr Morgan, despite having approved its publication.

He was later forced into a televised apology to members of his own staff.

SEE ALSO
Morgan attacks went 'too far'
02 Oct 08 |  Wales

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