Hasan Suroor

LONDON: `After a week of damaging revelations about how British MPs of all political parties and including senior Cabinet Ministers have been abusing the generous expenses claims system, it has been decided to set up a new independent body to verify each and every receipt submitted by an MP for reimbursement.

The announcement by Sir Stuart Bell, member of the Commons’ Estimates Committee which draws up rules for MPs claims, came as for the third consecutive day The Telegraph newspaper named and shamed MPs accused of “playing” the system which allows out-of-London members to claim up to £22,000 a year on their home arrangements in London.

The newspaper, which reportedly paid thousands of pounds for leaked information about MPs expenses claims going back to 2004, has published receipts that show members claiming for almost everything under the sun — from sofa sets and plasma TV sets to bath-plugs, and toiletries including nappies.

The expenses claims revealed include Prime Minister Gordon Brown who claimed £6,577 between 2004 and 2006 for cleaning services; Foreign Secretary David Miliband who claimed hundreds of pounds for gardening expenses; Chancellor of Exchequer Alistair Darling and Business Secretary Peter Mandelson.

There is no suggestion of fraud by MPs as the claims fall within the permissible limit but they are accused of “milking” the system and pushing their claims to the limit.

The revelations, which have prompted headlines such as “The Shaming of Parliament”, “Shaming of our political class” and “A plague on both your Houses”, has caused concern that these would further sap trust in politicians.

Sir Stuart said MPs had “lost the confidence of the public and we need to get that back”. He said it would be independent of the Commons’ fee office which now vets MPs claims.

“We will .. create a new body, a different body that will be separate and I would hope that once this body is created and is up and running it will then be hived off to the private sector to another firm, so there is an entire arm’s length between members of Parliament and those who are dispersing amounts under allowances.”