Expenses Probe Would Breach Our Rights, Warn MPs

Daily Mail (London), October 19, 2009 | Go to article overview

Expenses Probe Would Breach Our Rights, Warn MPs


Byline: Kirsty Walker Political Correspondent

MPs are trying to block a police probe into their expenses.

A group of Labour members is understood to have warned Scotland Yard that an inquiry could breach their right of parliamentary privilege.

Senior Labour sources have revealed that some MPs have consulted lawyers on whether the ancient right could be used to shield their expenses from outside investigation.

The move came as senior Labour MP Frank Field said he would refuse to co-operate after he was ordered to pay back more than [pounds sterling]7,000.

The respected backbench MP has been asked to repay [pounds sterling]5,000 in housekeeping and more than [pounds sterling]2,000 in other household bills after auditor Sir Thomas Legg imposed a series of caps on claims going back five years. Mr Field, who has made his expenses public for each of the last four years, accused Sir Thomas of imposing 'arbitrary' limits and said the demand to repay had turned him from 'honourable member to rogue'.

The former social security minister said: 'Imagine you have been driving, perfectly legally, through a 30 mile an hour zone at a speed of 25mph.

'Imagine then your reaction when, five years later, you receive multiple fines as a decision has been taken to change, retrospectively, the speed limit to 20. My concern is that nowhere has Sir Thomas explained why he has changed the rules which have resulted in his recalculations.' Mr Field added: 'I was dazed that, as someone who has always been open about my expenses, his arbitrary decision should link me with the abuses known all too well to voters.' Parliamentary privilege gives MPs the constitutional right of protection from civil or criminal liability for actions and statements made in relation to their duties.

Most notably, it lets MPs speak freely in the Commons chamber without fear of legal action for slander. At least three MPs are understood to be under police investigation over allegations of fraud, and some have been interviewed under caution.

HM Revenue and Customs has opened formal inquiries into 27 individual MPs over their expenses. …

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