Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

CHEATING MPs IN [Pounds sterling]1M PAYBACK DAY; 350 FOUND GUILTY OF MILKING EXPENSES ON PARLIAMENT'S DAY OF SHAME; ANGRY POLITICIANS LAUNCH ATTACK ON 'LAZY, INCOMPETENT' SLEAZE WATCHDOG; Auditor Condemns 'Vague Rules'

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

CHEATING MPs IN [Pounds sterling]1M PAYBACK DAY; 350 FOUND GUILTY OF MILKING EXPENSES ON PARLIAMENT'S DAY OF SHAME; ANGRY POLITICIANS LAUNCH ATTACK ON 'LAZY, INCOMPETENT' SLEAZE WATCHDOG; Auditor Condemns 'Vague Rules'

Article excerpt

Byline: Nicholas Cecil, Paul Waugh and Pippa Crerar

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

Hundreds were told to repay a total of more than [pounds sterling]1.1 million after years of misusing taxpayer-funded 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 damning findings destroyed claims by some MPs that just a small number of "bad apples" were milking the generous expenses system. But MPs launched a brazen counterattack on Sir Thomas, with Tory MP Ann Widdecombe calling his review "lazy, incompetent and illogical".

In a black day for Parliament, Sir Thomas ruled that Tory couple Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirkbride must repay more than [pounds sterling]60,000 and ordered Labour minister Barbara Follett to pay back [pounds sterling]42,458 -- the highest single amount.

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

MPs have already paid back at least [pounds sterling]800,000. They have until 22 February to make repayments. In his report, Sir Thomas condemned the "deeply flawed" expenses system for secondhomes. "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. …

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