Suffolk MP may be asked to repay thousands

A SUFFOLK MP is expected to be asked to pay back thousands of pounds he claimed from taxpayers for maintaining the garden at his constituency home.

Graham Dines

A SUFFOLK MP is expected to be asked to pay back thousands of pounds he claimed from taxpayers for maintaining the garden at his constituency home.

Sir Michael Lord, who has announced he will not be seeking re-election in his Central Suffolk & North Ipswich seat, may be caught out by a tough new approach to allowances expenses which it is understood is to be applied retrospectively to the last four years.

Sir Thomas Legg, who was asked by the Prime Minister to carry out an independent audit of MPs expenses claims over the past four years, has reportedly set a retrospective annual limit of �1,000 a year for gardening and �2,000 for cleaning.

Sir Michael, who was said by his secretary to be at a meeting and not contactable and who is an arboriculturalist by profession, claimed more than �7,900 for his garden. This included �700 for tree work and �650 for felling a dangerous large beech tree on the orders of Mid Suffolk council, and �45 for slow release fertiliser which was administered to the lawn at his Suffolk home.

His expenses revealed also that he regularly claimed �160 a month for cleaning.

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There is no suggestion that Sir Michael did anything illegal. His office would not confirm whether the auditor had recommended him to repay but under the new approach, he may be recommended to repay about �4,000 to cover the period from the 2005 general election.

Publication in the summer of members' claims - which revealed moat cleaning, duck houses, and other eradication of moles - caused a public outcry and a promise from all three party leaders that cleaning up the expenses mess would be a parliamentary priority.

Sir Thomas, whose final report is expected in December, does not have the power to demand that they repay money. But his report will go to the Commons' Members Estimate Committee which will decide whether to order its recommendations be carried out.

All MPs yesterday received a letter from Sir Thomas, indicating whether he considered their expenses had been excessive, even if under a strict interpretation of the rules covering the claims period they had been legal.

As soon as the letters were delivered, a number of MPs, including Gordon Brown and Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, announced that they were reimbursing the taxpayer.

Following pressure from Tory leader David Cameron in the summer on all his MPs, three of the region's Commons members reviewed their claims for the past four years and decided voluntarily that they should give up some of the cash they had received from taxpayers.

Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) paid back �15,754.55 of his gardening claims, John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal) decided to reimburse �11,538.10 split between gardening and household costs, and Bernard Jenkin (Essex North) �659.17.

Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole was not expecting to have to repay any money. “I have made my expenses public even before I was told to.”

The following MPs did not respond to inquires from the EADT on how much money, if any, the audit suggested they return: David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds), Bob Russell (Colchester), Tim Yeo (Suffolk South), and Richard Spring (Suffolk West).