Pounds 1MILLION PAYBACK DAY FOR MPs WHO CHEATED ; 350 GUILTY IN EXPENSES SCANDAL Scathing Words for Speaker Martin [Edition 2]

Article excerpt

THE full scale of the MPs' expenses scandal was laid bare today in a day of shame for Parliament.

Hundreds were told to repay a total of more than Pounds 1.1 million after years of misusing taxpayerfunded second-home allowances.

Commons auditor Sir Thomas Legg struck out demands submitted by nearly 350 MPs or former MPs - half of those he investigated.

His findings destroyed claims by some MPs that just a small number of "bad apples" were milking the system. But MPs launched a counter-attack, with Tory Ann Widdecombe calling the review "lazy, incompetent and illogical".

In his report, Sir Thomas condemned the "deeply flawed" expenses system for second homes.

"The rules were vague, and MPs were themselves self-certifying as to the propriety of their use of the allowance," he said. "Taken with the prevailing lack of transparency and the 'culture of deference', this meant the Commons fees office's decisions lacked legitimacy and many of them were in fact mistaken."

Sir Thomas was scathing about the role of former Speaker Michael Martin. He said officials in the fees office were "vulnerable to the influence of higher authorities in the House of Commons, from the Speaker down".

In a black day for Parliament, he ruled that Tory couple Andrew Mackay and Julie Kirkbride must repay more than Pounds 60,000 and ordered Labour minister Barbara Follett to pay back Pounds 42,458 - the highest single amount.

The highest demand for a London MP was Pounds 5,121 from Labour's Joan Ryan, of Enfield North.

"Duck house" MP Sir Peter Viggers must repay Pounds 13,264 after an appeal reduced his bill by just over Pounds 200; MP Douglas Hogg, who submitted claims for cleaning his moat, has to hand back Pounds 20,639; and Lord Mandelson was told to repay Pounds 800 in gardening bills claimed when he was an MP. …