Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Anger over MPs' 'golden goodbyes'

Elliot Morley
Jim Devine
David Chaytor

The three MPs facing criminal charges over their expenses could still receive tens of thousands of pounds in "golden goodbyes" on stepping down from the Commons, it has emerged.

Elliot Morley, Jim Devine and David Chaytor are likely to get the payments because they will still be "innocent until proven guilty" by the time of the general election.

All three Labour MPs deny allegations of false accounting, and have pledged to defend themselves "robustly".

Legal advisers to Speaker John Bercow are understood to have been examining whether the resettlement grants could be withheld or delayed while the court process is completed. However, they have yet to find a way that satisfies "natural justice" as the men have not been convicted of any crime.

MPs are entitled to payoffs of up to £65,000 when they leave Parliament at an election, depending on their age and length of service.

Under new rules expected to be passed over the next few days, members who refuse to hand over money demanded by Sir Thomas Legg's audit of expenses from 2004-8 will face having the money docked from any pay, allowances or grants due.

However, Mr Morley, Mr Devine and Mr Chaytor were not examined as part of the process because a police investigation was already under way - potentially making efforts to claw back cash more difficult.

The news emerged amid growing anger at the suggestion that the MPs could rely on the principle of parliamentary privilege to argue they are exempt from prosecution.

Aides to David Cameron said he was "disgusted" by the idea, while Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg said the public would be "appalled".

The parties were also ramping up their wider battle to be seen as the toughest on political sleaze.

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