Conservatives have defended party chairman and Meriden MP Caroline Spelman as demands grew for her to produce documentation proving the nanny whom she paid from public funds was working as her constituency secretary.
Tory leader David Cameron will be hoping that the sting has been drawn from the Spelman affair by a statement from nanny Tina Haynes, who said that her work for Mrs Spelman in 1997/98 included both childcare and administrative duties.
But Labour MP John Mann insisted that if Ms Haynes was indeed employed as a secretary, she would have left a “paper trail” of computer files and initialled documents, and said Mrs Spelman should produce them or pay back the funds she claimed from her parliamentary staffing allowance.
Mrs Spelman (Meriden) is due to meet Parliamentary Standards Commissioner John Lyon today after she decided to refer the case to the watchdog herself so that he can judge whether rules were broken.
She insists she did nothing wrong, and won the backing of shadow Chancellor George Osborne, who described her as “someone of enormous integrity and honesty”.
Fellow West Midlands Conservative MP and shadow International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell (Sutton Coldfield) also defended Mrs Spelman, saying: “I think Caroline has done exactly the right thing. She has turned the matter over to the Commissioner in the House of Commons to look at.
“Those of us who work with Caroline would find it very difficult to believe she would willingly do anything wrong, but this is an area – as David Cameron has said – where there isn’t proper transparency and the sooner we can bring transparency, so people can see how public money is being spent, the better.
“Caroline has said that this was someone who was doing two separate jobs for which she was remunerated in two separate ways. On the face of it, that is a perfectly reasonable position.”
Shadow Home Secretary David Davis told BBC1’s The Politics Show: “I would be amazed if there’s any substance to this.
“She says this is something she did for one year, and thought it might be misrepresented or misinterpreted, it wasn’t outside the rules at the time and she put it right then.”
Meanwhile, there were fresh questions over Tory expenses claims at the European Parliament, as the Sunday Times reported that Conservative MEP Sir Robert Atkins attended his son’s wedding in the USA during a visit paid for from parliamentary allowances.
Sir Robert could not be reached for comment but he told the newspaper the wedding coincided with an invitation from the Republican National Committee to make a visit to meet party members in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
Mrs Spelman, speaking at her Solihull home on Saturday, confirmed she paid Ms Haynes from her parliamentary allowances for a period of months after she was first elected to the Commons in 1997, but said this was because she was performing secretarial duties during school hours before looking after her three children later in the day.
“At the time, I thought it was entirely within the rules – and that is still my belief,” said Mrs Spelman. “But I will refer this series of events to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and invite him to examine them and I will seek an early opportunity on Monday to meet with the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for that purpose.”
But Mr Mann said: “She now needs to provide all the letters marked with the secretary’s initials. I’ve never heard of an MP giving out their home phone number to members of the public, but if that is where she says she was to be contacted via her constituency secretary then it must be listed in the local authority guide, so let her produce that.”
* For one year I had two roles, says nanny
Tina Haynes, from Northfield, Birmingham, is the former nanny to Conservative chairman Caroline Spelman. She released a statement on Saturday backing up Mrs Spelman’s account. This is the full text.
“During the period of 1997 to 2002 Mrs Caroline Spelman employed me at her home address and during the period of 1997 to 1998, I had two roles, one helping Mrs Spelman with childcare and another providing secretarial help to her as an MP.
My roles and responsibilities were general administration which entailed tasks such as posting of letters, answering phone calls at the home address, faxing or posting documents to Mrs Spelman whilst she was in London, this was performed during the hours that her children were at school. On Fridays any help with directions to constituency events was given.
On the 6th June 2008 I received a phone call from Michael Crick from the BBC stating that he was doing a programme about Mrs Spelman and her family life with her being an MP. I answered the questions asked of which a few are listed below.
Did I do secretarial work? To which I answered Yes,
Was it political? To which I answered No (my understanding of this was that he was asking was it party political work)
Did I do Nannying / Childcare for her? To which I answered Yes.
For a period of time the constituency phone number was Mrs Spelman’s personal home landline number, so any calls made to this number whilst Mrs Spelman was not present was answered by myself, and all messages taken were then passed directly onto Mrs Spelman.
I believe my answers accurately reflect that for one year I had two roles.”