The Telegraph is reporting that the Commons Fees office, overseen by Michael Martin, colluded to encourage MPs to make fraudulent claims:
Parliamentary authorities, overseen by Michael Martin, the Speaker, gave secret permission for some MPs to over-claim for thousands of pounds in home loan interest in deals that led to the systematic abuse of the taxpayer-funded expenses system.
Ben Chapman, a Labour MP, admitted last night that he was allowed to continue claiming for interest payments on his entire mortgage after repaying £295,000 of the loan in 2002.
Over 10 months the arrangement allowed Mr Chapman to receive £15,000 for the part of the home loan which had been paid off. Last night, he said he would not give back the money.
Permission to claim “phantom” mortgage payments is understood to have been offered to several MPs before 2004. It was stopped after Commons officials admitted it should never have been allowed. Michael Martin has been Speaker since 2000 and was therefore ultimately responsible for the arrangements – which has never been independently investigated.
He will make a statement today on the growing expenses scandal after a sustained attempt by MPs to unseat him.
None of the other MPs who have benefited from the phantom mortgage deal have been publicly named or are thought to have been asked to pay back claims. Some MPs who were found to have over-claimed for mortgages were simply invited to “dig out” receipts to cover the illegitimate claims.
The Daily Telegraph has disclosed that two Labour MPs, Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, claimed for mortgages that did not exist. They say the claims were an oversight. Both have been suspended from the parliamentary party and face police investigations.
It is feared that if other MPs were allowed to inflate mortgage claims, with the authority of the fees office, the problem may be far wider and could lead to widespread criminal action.
Lawyers have given warning that simply because the arrangement was within Parliamentary rules does not mean it is legal.
So it would appear that it is not just a few MPs chancing it with dubious claims, or even a lot of them, but the Speaker of the House of Commons colluded to encourage fraud.
If this is true, then Michael Martin should go to prison, along with everyone else in the Fees Office who is involved.
(via Iain Dale)