Expenses watchdog puts MPs on the spot

THE expenses scandal returned to haunt Westminster after the public spending watchdog questioned millions of pounds claimed by MPs last year and refused to sign off the House of Commons accounts.

Officials paid out nearly 14m of claims last year despite MPs failing to provide the required receipts or being able to prove the money was required for

their Parliamentary work, according to Auditor General Amyas Morse.

He found that 2.6m of claims in 2009/10 were not accompanied by receipts – with 800,000 never backed up despite a "major exercise" to track down the evidence – after being asked to take a detailed look at claims made by MPs last year.

Another 11.3m was paid out in claims lacking sufficient detail to prove they were for Parliamentary purposes.

Although Mr Morse said the discovery – from claims made largely between the eruption of the expenses scandal and the election – "does not necessarily imply that expenditure was paid incorrectly", he said he was qualifying the House of Commons accounts, a major embarrassment to MPs.

The Commons is trying to claw back only 33,794 of the money. The Commons Members Estimate Committee, which oversees House finances, admitted that "checks and balances were not adequate".

It comes amid continuing unrest from MPs at the way the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which polices expenses in the wake of the scandal, is handling claims, Prime Minister David Cameron warning last night that it must improve by April or be forced to change.