Second British MP suspended for mortgage claims

David Chaytor says he made an “unforgivable error”

 

LONDON — Britain’s governing Labour Party suspended a second member of Parliament for claiming reimbursement for nonexistent mortgage payments, officials said Saturday, in a deepening scandal that has enraged the public.

 

Britain has seen its share of political controversies over the years, but few have tarnished all three of the country’s main political parties in a single stroke.

 

Leaked expense claims for chandeliers, horse manure, pornography and moat upkeep on country estates, among other items, have enraged voters — many of whom have lost jobs and homes during Britain’s deepening recession.

 

Police and prosecutors have been meeting to decide what, if any, action should be taken against MPs who misused parliamentary expenses. No charges had been filed.

David Chaytor became the second Labour Party member of Parliament to be punished in the scandal. Chaytor, who says he made an “unforgivable error,” was suspended after he was caught in The Daily Telegraph’s continuing publication of previously secret expense claims.

His Labour colleague, Elliot Morley, had been suspended after admitting the same offence.

Members of the opposition Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties have also been caught up in outrage across Britain about the perks enjoyed by legislators.

Chaytor had claimed reimbursement of nearly 13,000 pounds (C$23,000) in 2005 and 2006 for a mortgage which had been paid off in 2004, The Daily Telegraph said.

“After speaking to David Chaytor this morning, the chief whip has suspended him from the privilege of membership of the Parliamentary Labour Party pending further investigations by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on condition of anonymity in line with office policy.

Chaytor said in a statement published by the newspaper that “in respect of mortgage interest payments, there has been an unforgivable error in my accounting procedures for which I apologize unreservedly. I will act immediately to ensure repayment is made to the Fees Office.”

Chaytor’s wife Sheena said he had made “a really stupid mistake.”

“It was a mistake but I do not suppose anybody will believe that,” she added.

There was little sympathy for Chaytor among his constituents in Lancashire.

“He should be put in flippin’ jail,” the Press Association agency quoted 84-year-old Martin Flynn as saying.

“It does make me angry. Just because they are in a position of power does not mean they can get away with it,” said Jessica Woods, 20.

British MPs are paid 64,776 pounds (C$115,676), plus allowances for staff and office expenses.

They are also allowed to claim expenses for maintaining homes in London and their constituencies.

Expense rules are laid out in the 66-page Green Book — a guide sent to every member of Parliament.

It sets limits on expense claims, such as a 25 pound ($45) cap on eating out when away from home and how much can be claimed toward a second home, usually a residence in London.

Though the guidelines don’t ban any specific items, the rules say expenses should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn’t damage Parliament’s reputation.

 
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