TREBLES all round in the Commons at the news that all the evidence about profiteering from the MPs’ expenses racket before 2010 has been shredded.
The destruction of the claim forms and other paperwork came to light by accident after three Conservative activists on the Isle of Wight called for a proper inquiry into the amounts claimed by local Tory MP Andrew Turner.
In a 60-page dossier sent to the MPs’ standards committee (aka the double standards committee) and the parliamentary commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, they show how Turner claimed more than £100,000 in mortgage payments and other expenses for his five-bedroom house at Newport, IoW. Turner also had a flat in south London and assured the Commons authorities that he lived there permanently with his girlfriend, Carole Dennett (whom he also put on the parliamentary payroll) so that he could claim second-home payments for the Isle of Wight house.
Clearly home was Newport
Yet on his website he boasted: "The Isle of Wight is my home. I live with Carole and our rescue dog Pickle in the country town of Newport, right at the heart of the island.” His website insists that “since his election to parliament in 2001 Andrew has worked tirelessly for the Islanders both at home and at Westminster”. So clearly home was Newport – yet in each year from 2004/05 Turner claimed more than £19,000 from the taxpayer by pretending Newport was just used for a few constituency visits.
The Conservative activists who are calling for an inquiry have told the standards committee and Hudson that they held regular Thursday meetings on the Isle of Wight with their MP, who was in London for just three nights a week when the House was in session. Otherwise he lived in Newport. Allowing for parliamentary recesses, they have calculated that Turner spent nearly twice as much time in Newport as London while pocketing thousands – £2,700 for bathroom improvements in 2005/06, £1,050 for work in his garden – on the basis that his Newport house was a second home. He also got the taxpayer to pay his £7,806.46 council tax bill in Newport, leaving him to pay only £3,824.46 on his London flat; and claimed a single person’s discount even though he told the Commons it was his principal residence and is jointly owned with Ms Dennett.
The standards committee and parliamentary commissioner stonewalled for as long as possible as they considered the damning dossier. Then came the brilliant solution: Hudson told the complainants that all records of Turner’s expenses claims had been destroyed, because paperwork should not be kept longer than three years.
In the case of former Labour MP Denis MacShane, the expenses claims that landed him in prison were already a decade old when he was prosecuted. But now all MPs who flipped homes or enriched themselves in the London property market at public expense are immune from investigation, and Andrew Turner can sleep easily in one of his many bedrooms. Parliamentary democracy at its finest!