Belfast Telegraph

Paisley one of 377 MPs to have official credit card suspended

Ian Paisley (Brian Lawless/PA)
Ian Paisley (Brian Lawless/PA)
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

Parliament's spending watchdog tried to prevent the public being told that 377 MPs, including the North Antrim MP Ian Paisley, had their official credit cards suspended for breaking rules on expenses.

DUP MP Mr Paisley ran up debts of £1,193 and had his credit card suspended while repaying it. Among others breaching rules were nine Cabinet ministers and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Exactly 10 years after the MPs expenses scandal, the body set up to ensure greater transparency has been accused of trying to prevent openness, rather than ensuring it.

The Daily Telegraph reported that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority tried to stop disclosure of MPs' use of Parliamentary credit cards on the grounds it would have a "chilling effect" on its relationship with MPs and reduce public confidence in the regulatory system.

But a former High Court judge reversed the decision, saying that the risk of "embarrassing" MPs was no reason to keep the information secret.

Since the 2015 election, 377 MPs have all had their credit cards suspended, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show.

Many are repeat offenders - including Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd - and nine MPs have had their card suspended more than 10 times over the past three years.

From Amazon Prime subscriptions to incorrectly claimed rent and household bills, expenses claimed by MPs since 2015 have led to the Parliamentary watchdog suspending their credit cards - the toughest punishment it can issue.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said: "It shows there is either something fundamentally wrong with the system, or we've got a bunch of highly incompetent slovenly MPs who can't keep to the rules.

"The rest of the nation would only expect to have to comply in similar circumstances."

Parliamentary credit cards were introduced after the 2009 MPs expenses scandal to ensure that MPs' spending could be closely monitored and accounted for to the penny.

Cards are suspended when MPs break the rules, for example failing to provide receipts to justify payments in the required 30 days, incorrect spending which does not comply with the rules, and failing to repay money owed to the taxpayer for claims which were not eligible.

Mr Paisley said: "These were historic issues that have each been resolved to the satisfaction of the independent auditor. On the majority of the occasions the card was switched off because of lateness in processing the account. Once the claims were verified the card was reactivated."

Ms Rudd had her credit card suspended on five occasions between November 2015 and September 2016 while Mr Corbyn has had his card suspended twice - in August 2015 and September 2017.

Other MPs who have had their cards suspended include leading Brexiteer Boris Johnson.

In total there have been 1,114 suspensions of MPs' payment cards since the 2015 election.

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