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British politicians change the law to hide their suspicious expense claims from the public



One wife, two mistresses... and a quad bike on Commons expenses

The campaign by MPs to exclude themselves from freedom of information laws is headed by a Tory philanderer who bought a 3,300 quad bike on parliamentary expenses.

David Maclean, the author of new legislation limiting voters' rights to know about their MP's pay and perks, has admitted that his top-of-the-range 250cc all-terrain vehicle was paid for out of taxpayer-funded allowances.

[MPs have claimed that the purpose of the bill is to keep their correspondence with consituents confidential, but this is blatantly untrue. The Data Protection Act and other existing legislation already guarantees the confidentiality of this correspondence and indeed all private correspondence. Furthermore, speaking on BBC Radio 4, the government's own Information Commissioner, the man responsible for regulating Freedom of Information in Britain, said that the only complaints made by MPs to date have been about disclosures of their "expenses", and to date there have been no problems whatsoever with MP's "correspondence". Moreover, MPs have appealed to a tribunal to try and keep their expenses secret, but the trubunal ruled against them. (Today Programme, 24 May 2007, 8:55 hrs.)]

Mr Maclean is separated from his wife Jay and has had a series of extramarital affairs.

He had a relationship with Tory official Jenny Ungless, whom he helped secure two well-paid jobs in the party.

The MP is now seeing single mother Jane Rapson, who previously went out with another Conservative politician.

Mr Maclean said: "Yes, I do have a quad bike and yes, I have bought it on expenses.

"I can see the headlines now, "Maclean, who once had an affair, using quad bike to ride round his constituency with his mistress on the back."'

The former Home Office Minister insists he needs the silver E-Ton Vector quad bike to get around his large rural constituency.

His controversial Private Member's Bill was passed in the Commons on Friday, despite claims that it was a "shameful" bid to conceal embarrassing details about MPs' expenses.

If the Bill becomes law, it will be harder for voters to find out details about individual claims - such as Mr Maclean's own reimbursement by the Commons authorities for the quad bike.

Opponents of the legislation say it was proposed only after MPs were reluctantly forced to reveal detailed breakdowns of their travel expenses.

But Mr Maclean, a former Conservative Chief Whip, insists that his legislation is necessary to protect private letters between MPs and constituents from requests under the Freedom of Information Act.

He told The Mail on Sunday: "I didn't suddenly wake up one morning and decide to bring in this Bill on a whim so that the media could say, "Ah yes, Maclean must be doing this because he's got something to hide."

"I have nothing to hide."

Scots-born Mr Maclean, 54, has multiple sclerosis and walks with the aid of a shepherd's crook, or cromach as it is known in Gaelic.

He claimed the quad bike helped him get around events in his Penrith and the Borders constituency.

The MP said that the Commons authorities had approved the claim for the quad bike.

"I just asked whether I was eligible for it and was told yes,' he said. "I have the biggest constituency in the country and I attend several big agricultural shows throughout the year.

"I can take it anywhere. I could even take it TT racing in the Isle of Man."

He added: "I could use a mobility scooter, I suppose, but it would probably get stuck."

Mr Maclean has been estranged from his wife, whom he married in 1977, for a number of years. It is believed she has been reluctant to grant him a divorce for religious reasons.

Last year they finally sold their marital home, a farmhouse in the Pennine village of Hesket Newmarket, for 750,000. Mrs Maclean now lives in a small bungalow nearby.

Mr Maclean has had a colourful love-life since splitting from his wife. His current mistress is Jane Rapson, 44, who works as secretary to fellow Ripon Conservative MP David Curry.

Ms Rapson, an attractive petite brunette who has a 12-year-old son from a previous relationship, lives round the corner from Mr Maclean's apartment in Westminster.

She previously dated a Conservative defence spokesman, bachelor Julian Lewis, though he is not the father of her child. It is understood that Ms Rapson has never been married.

Speaking about his marriage, Mr Maclean said: "We are separated, the marriage is over and our divorce is going through. She was an innocent party."

Asked about Ms Rapson, Mr Maclean added: "I never talk about my private life. It has nothing to do with this Bill."

Ms Rapson confirmed she was in a relationship with the MP, commenting: "There is no secret about that. I have known David a long time." Mr Maclean's estranged wife Jay declined to comment.

A previous mistress was Jenny Ungless, 39, whom he met in 1993 when he was a Home Office Minister in John Major's Government.

Mr Maclean gave up a chance of Cabinet promotion to stay with her at the Home Office.

He went on to help secure her two political jobs.

When the Tories lost power in 1997, he set up the Parliamentary Resources Unit, a Westminster research group funded by Tory MPs from their parliamentary allowances.

Ms Ungless was appointed its first director on an estimated salary of 50,000.

And in 2001, when Mr Maclean was Tory Chief Whip, Ms Ungless was appointed chief of staff to leader Iain Duncan Smith.

But she left within a year after falling out with Mr Duncan Smith.

The MP was also close to John Major's former secretary Gina Hearn, who was said to have been "jealous" of Mr Maclean's affair with Ms Ungless.

Three years ago, Mr Maclean reported The Mail on Sunday to the Press Complaints Commission following an article which accused him of misleading people about his tangled private life.

And it was reported that, as Chief Whip, he played a "key role" in the dismissal of Boris Johnson from the Tory front bench for lying about his extramarital affair with society journalist Petronella Wyatt.

Mr Maclean claimed his privacy had been breached by this newspaper, but the complaint was rejected by the PCC in its entirety.

Official figures show that last year Mr Maclean claimed a total of 129,700 in Commons allowances - on top of his 59,000 basic salary.

This sum includes 15,167 in accommodation expenses, 6,969 for motoring and 8,561 for rail travel.

The figures are published as a result of the Freedom of Information Act. Commons Speaker Michael Martin has denied that Mr Maclean's Bill will mean MPs' expenses would now be kept secret.

But opponents say that a future Speaker could use the legislation to ban them from being published.


SOURCE

Daily Mail, "One wife, two mistresses... and a quad bike on Commons expenses", 20 May 2007.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=456316&in_page_id=1770


FURTHER READING


Daily Mail, "Anti-sleaze watchdog calls for crackdown on MPs' expense claims", 2 January 2007.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=425983&in_page_id=1770


Daily Mail, "Let's jail our crooked politicians", 25 October 2004.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/columnists/columnists.html?in_article_id=323394&in_page_id=1772&in_author_id=227
    Tony Blair's Government is forever designing new initiatives to deter welfare fraud. They encourage us to inform on cheats.
    Those caught applying for welfare payments to which they're not entitled face prosecution and - in some cases - prison sentences.
    Quite right, too. But have you noticed an odd omission when it comes to prosecuting those who falsely claim public money?
    Prime Ministers, Cabinet ministers, junior ministers, ordinary MPs and peers routinely claim expenses which are excessive - or fraudulent, in the accepted meaning of that word - but nothing can be done about it.
    If you and I make a claim for Government money which seems excessive, it's investigated. If they find we've set out to cheat them, we're prosecuted.
    Last year, our 659 MPs racked up expenses totalling 78 million, averaging 120,000 each.
    The 20 costliest MPs - 16 Labour, two SNP, one Liberal Democrat and one Conservative - claimed housing and travel expenses ranging from 142,977 to 168,889.
    The average MP claimed expenses of 118,437 (on top of their 57,485 salary and generous pension scheme) to pay for staff, office expenses, second homes, travel and computers. Their expenses have soared by more than a third since 2002.
    Scandalously, these extraordinary-claims won't be investigated. Why not? Because no politician can be prosecuted for fiddling their expenses. When Tory MP Michael Trend was accused of doing so by the Mail on Sunday, he repaid 90,000 and decided to stand down at the next election.
    Chancellor Gordon Brown has devised ever more ingenious ways of siphoning money from the expenses of companies and private individuals but none which apply to his fellow politicians. We're told we should congratulate ourselves on having the cleanest public life in the world. "Look how little corruption there is here compared with other countries in Europe," they say.
    The reason for this perception is that political corruption as such isn't illegal here. The worst that can happen to a minister caught using the powers of his office improperly is that he or she may have to resign. In other countries, it's prison.
    Peter Mandelson twice had to resign his Cabinet job after allegations to the effect that he had misused his ministerial position. On neither occasion was it a matter to be investigated by the police. Moreover, it didn't stop his friend, the Prime Minister, getting him a cosy, highly-paid public job in Brussels.
    ...


Daily Mail, "Lords challenge MPs' secrecy over expenses", 21 May 2004.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=456535&in_page_id=1770
    Peers have said that they would try to prevent MPs from excluding themselves from anti-secrecy laws - and condemned their "naked self-interest".
    They pledged to do their best to wreck House of Commons' legislation that would shroud politicians' expenses and allowances in secrecy.
    But if this fails, they are considering "shaming" MPs - by blocking an exemption from freedom of information laws for the House of Lords.
    It would create a bizarre situation where the public could find out the pay and perks of members of the Upper House but not those of their local MPs.
    ...


Daily Mail, "Blair chalks up 80,000 in expenses", 21 October 2004.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=322956&in_page_id=1770
    Prime Minister Tony Blair claimed 15,490 in expenses for the cost of staying away from home on parliamentary business last year, it was revealed today.
    The figure made up part of a total expenses bill of 80,836 for 2003-04 from Mr Blair, on top of his 178,922-a-year salary.
    ...


Daily Mail, "MPs make 200,000 [almost $400 US dollars] in a year in pay and perks", 27 October 2006.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=412855&in_page_id=1770
    MPs [British politicians in Parliament] got paid an average of 204,000 in pay and perks last year according to shocking new figures that reveal they earn more than 124 an hour [almost $250 US dollars per hour].
    ...


Daily Mail, "MPs 'claimed 86m expenses last year'", 26 October 2006.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=412713&in_page_id=1770


Daily Mail, "I work harder than others says London's most expensive MP", 27 October 2006.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/news.html?in_article_id=412926&in_page_id=1770
    ...
    Ilford North MP Lee Scott, who spent just 600 on postage, said: "I find it difficult to believe Andrew Dismore could possibly have spent that amount of money." The Conservative MP said he had dealt with 1,500 constituents since being elected last year. "I pay the postage myself unless it is a constituency case", he said.
    The smallest claim for postage was put in by Home Office Minister Tony McNulty, MP for Harrow East - a paltry 590.
    Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the Taxpayers' Alliance, said: "The postmen in Hendon deserve a Christmas bonus. Andrew Dismore must be the most prolific letterwriter in Britain. Unless he's trying to get into the Guinness Book of Records, it's difficult to know what he's going to achieve.
    ...



"The Insider" mailing list article, 20 May 2007.

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