David Wilshire, a senior Conservative MP, used his House of Commons expenses to pay more than £100,000 of taxpayers’ money to his own company, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Mr Wilshire claimed for more than three years for office assistance provided by “Moorlands Research Services”. Parliamentary expenses rules forbid MPs from entering into arrangements which “may give rise to an accusation” of profiting from public funds. But on Wednesday night, Mr Wilshire – the MP for Spelthorne in Surrey – admitted that he and his partner, Ann Palmer, were sole owners of the business.
The Telegraph has established that, between 2005 and 2008, Mr Wilshire paid up to £3,250 a month to the business. Extra invoices were also submitted and the total paid to the firm was £105,500. However, there is no official record of the company’s existence and it has never filed public accounts.
The parliamentary authorities have not independently checked how the money was spent and Mr Wilshire was last night unable to provide a breakdown. The disclosure raises serious questions over the MP’s expense claims amid concerns that Mr Wilshire may have personally profited from the arrangement. Last night, Mr Wilshire referred himself to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, John Lyon, who will begin a formal inquiry.
The MP, who also employs Miss Palmer as his office manager, has said that the company he had founded had paid “suppliers” to provide office services such as printing.
It was run by his partner and he insisted that they had not profited from the arrangement. He conceded it had never been registered as a company. But he was unable to explain why taxpayers’ money was funnelled through the firm in this way – or why such an arrangement was permitted with virtually no scrutiny. Files seen by The Telegraph show that other MPs commission office services from companies on an individual basis and claim them on expenses by submitting receipts.
The only public reference to the firm is in old editions of the Commons Register of Members’ Interests, where Mr Wilshire once declared that he was a partner in it. There is no registered British company called Moorland Research Services. The address given on an invoice from the company was the home of his partner, which was also the registered base of a separate company she owned with her daughter, Sarah-Jane Palmer.
On Wednesday Sarah-Jane Palmer said she had never heard of Moorland Research Services. Mr Wilshire said she had no connection to the firm and had not received public funds.
Mr Wilshire, who said the company was closed down last year, said: “The arrangement ... was formally approved by the fees office and, as required by the rules, a formal written agreement was drawn up and lodged with them. The payments were made strictly in accordance with the rules and payments were made directly to the business’s bank account (which was in its own name and controlled by it).”
The exposure of the payments will add to growing fears over the thoroughness of Sir Thomas Legg’s inquiry into the expenses system. He has decided not to investigate some of the most controversial and questionable practices Mr Wilshire’s claims, made from an allowance to pay office expenses, were not scrutinised by the inquiry.
Shahid Malik, a Labour minister, was also “cleared” by Sir Thomas despite major questions still remaining over his office expenses. Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, the two MPs facing a police investigation, have also been sent a letter from Sir Thomas saying they face “no further action” from his inquiry. Hazel Blears, the former Cabinet minister who “flipped” her designated second home three times in a year, only has to repay £225 for a shelving unit.
Brian Binley, a Conservative MP, says he has been cleared despite renting a home owned by his company in contravention of the rules and the terms of reference set out by the Legg inquiry. One Labour minister said: “It seems rather odd that those accused of some of the most heinous abuses now have a letter they can wave around which says they do not face further action.”
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, yesterday urged Sir Thomas to increase the scope of his inquiry dramatically to include those who “flipped” homes and used expenses to become property speculators.
Mr Wilshire is now certain to face significant scrutiny from his constituents, already angry at his use of parliamentary expenses. Despite having a constituency 20 miles from Westminster, he has consistently claimed the maximum second home allowance for a flat in central London. In total, he has claimed £141,039 since 2001.
In a highly unusual arrangement with the fees office, he claimed thousands in monthly payments that he said went towards the cost of decorating and replacing its curtains and carpets in the future. He has refused to repay the money despite conceding that it has not all been spent.
With his main home in Somerset, he has also claimed more than £43,000 for travel since 2001.
Mr Wilshire has written to the team drawing up recommendations to overhaul the expenses system, urging them not to “over-react” by introducing tough new rules.
He is best known for his controversial creation of Section 28 of the 1988 Local Government Act, which he introduced “to prevent local authorities from promoting homosexuality”.
"Controversial"! That's one way of describing state-sanctioned homophobia... I've never liked Wilshire.
The last few months I've been trying to be nice and understanding of MPs massaging the rules and such, but then you've got some people who just take the piss and make it very hard to have any sympathy.