A pair of West Midland MPs are to face surprise inspections from accountants to confirm all their expenses claims are genuine, as part of a campaign to clean up the image of politicians.
Liberal Democrats John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) and Lorely Burt (Lib Dem Solihull) will be liable for the spot checks, as part of a tough regime introduced by Nick Clegg, their party leader.
It follows last week’s House of Commons vote in which MPs threw out proposals to introduce independent checks for everyone.
Speaking to The Birmingham Post, Mr Clegg launched a scathing attack on Tory and Labour MPs who opposed the reforms, claiming: “I just found it the most staggering example of self-confessed arrogance and political stupidity.”
He revealed he was introducing a new regime for all Liberal Democrat MPs designed to make certain there was no room for anyone to exploit the system of parliamentary allowances.
Mr Hemming claimed £134,220 last year, including £81,062 to pay salaries of his staff, while Ms Burt claimed £140,904, including £83,694 on staff. Neither MP has ever been accused of any wrongdoing, but the measure will apply to all Lib Dem MPs following a series of incidents which have raised questions about the expenses system.
Earlier this year, Tory MP Derek Conway was accused of overpaying his son from his parliamentary staffing allowance. Conservative chair and Meriden MP Caroline Spelman has been criticised for paying a nanny, who also doubled as a constituency assistant, from expenses, while two members of the Cabinet, husband and wife Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, are being investigated over the funding of their London home.
Mr Clegg said: “I think the 150-odd Labour MPs, and the 20-odd Conservative MPs who voted to keep the system as it is were committing political hara kiri.”
He added: “I just found it the most staggering example of self-confessed arrogance and political stupidity. Both the Conservative and Labour MPs seemed to have turned their backs on the British people, said we don’t care what you think about us politicians, and we are going to take the money and cut and run.”
Every Lib Dem MP who took part in the vote had backed the reforms, he said.
“We are now working with the Institute of Chartered Accountants to work out a system in which we can create a system of spot checks which would apply to Liberal Democrats in a way that would have been included in the package which was rejected by Conservative and Labour MPs.
“It is wholly unacceptable that at a time when politics is probably held in lower regard than it has been for a generation, that Conservative and Labour MPs should gang together to thwart a system of change ... it is a spectacular own goal which I think will haunt us until we return to it and clean up the mess of MPs’ pay and expenses.”
But Mr Clegg was criticised by Labour MP John Spellar (Warley), who voted against the reforms last week. Mr Spellar said: “If you look at he record of the vote, it turns out Nick Clegg cared so much about it that he couldn’t even be bothered to turn up and take part.”
MPs should be accountable to the public, not to accountants or bureaucrats, Mr Spellar said.
Also during the interview, the Liberal Democrat leader condemned Schools Secretary Ed Balls for warning that 630 schools across England, including 27 in Birmingham, could close unless they improve their results.
Mr Clegg said: “The way in which Ed Balls has produced a list of schools which are put on a sort of death row for schools, saying if they don’t improve within a very short space of time they’ll be taken over by central government, I think this is a profoundly demoralising thing for teachers and headteachers.”