Midland MP Caroline Spelman faces a probe by MPs into claims she paid her children’s nanny from public finds.
But she may be told there is no case to answer, after Parliament’s ethical watchdog ruled it would be “exceptional” for a full investigation.
Mrs Spelman, the Conservative chair and MP for Meriden, met John Lyon, the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, on Monday to clear her name.
She took the unusual step of asking him to launch an inquiry, after claims she paid Tina Haynes from public funds to work as a nanny after arriving in the House of Commons in 1997.
Mrs Spelman says Ms Haynes, from Northfield, Birmingham, carried out secretarial and administrative work, which MPs are expected to claim funding for, as well as providing childcare services outside school hours.
This account was backed by a statement released by the nanny on Saturday, in which Ms Haynes said in 1997-98 she had “two roles, one helping with childcare and another providing secretarial help as an MP”.
But when interviewed by BBC2’s Newsnight last week, Ms Haynes reportedly said she did no political work for the MP, but took “the odd phone call” and posted documents.
In a statement yesterday, Mr Lyon said he was “considering carefully” the matter but it would be “exceptional” for him to open an inquiry into matters more than seven years old, or which an MP had referred. Instead of throwing the complaint out, he will consult the Committee on Standards and Privileges – which includes backbench MPs from all parties – before deciding whether to investigate.
It means Mrs Spelman’s fate lies with MPs, who will consider the evidence before deciding whether to order the Commissioner to hold an investigation.
She has received strong support from colleagues such as Birmingham Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell (Con Sutton Coldfield), who said last night: “Those of us who know Caroline Spelman know she would never knowingly do anything wrong.”
However, Conservative leader David Cameron issued what appeared to be a slap on the wrist, when he warned MPs had to behave in a way acceptable to the public.
He said: “We have got to recognise as MPs it is not enough just to meet the letter of the rules. We have to be happy everything we put in place for funding our offices is something reasonable and practical people would look at and say: ‘That’s OK.”’ He also warned anyone who did break rules would be fired, and could face criminal charges.
“If someone has done something wrong they get investigated, if they have broken the rules I take away the whip. But if they have broken the law they should face the consequences.”
Conservatives face a series of rows over expenses involving Brussels MEPs.
Tory MEP Sir Robert Atkins last night said he used £2,000 from public money towards tflights, hotel accommodation and travel in the US in November 2006 to attend his son’s wedding. He had been in America at the invitation of Republicans ahead of the mid-term congressional elections, he said.
The Conservative leader in the European Parliament, Giles Chichester, stood down last week after it emerged he channelled more than £400,000 in staff expenses through a private family company.
The party’s chief whip in Brussels, Den Dover, was also replaced after paying his wife and daughter a reported £758,000 over nine years through a company for secretarial and support services.
Mr Cameron has asked Hugh Thomas, Conservative head of compliance, to scrutinise MEPs’ Brussels expenses. He arrives today.
However, Mrs Spelman’s case is the most embarrassing for Mr Cameron as she is a member of his shadow Cabinet. One colleague claimed she had been the victim of a “witch-hunt” by left-wing media.
Tory MP Nadine Dorries said: “What we saw over the weekend was the equivalent of a McCarthy-style witch-hunt.”