David Blackburn

Widdecombe defies Cameron over the Legg letters

Widdecombe defies Cameron over the Legg letters
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The Tory leadership’s line on Sir Thomas Legg’s expense repayment demands is clear. Mr Cameron told GMTV: “Repay or you cannot stand as Conservative MP”.  

The public’s justified outrage at expenses is such that party leaders must take a stand and discipline MPs, deemed to have transgressed rules or to have exploited the second home allowance. But, as I wrote yesterday, the Legg Commission exceeded its remit, acting as judge rather than auditor. As such, MPs are right to resist Sir Thomas’ demands: Parliament urgently needs reform, but there is a clear problem that reform will be inaugurated by a commission that ignored its terms of reference.

This is an unpopular viewpoint, deeply unpopular. However, Ann Widdecombe, whose expenses record is impeccable, argued this morning that are questions of legality over the Legg Commission. She told Sky News:

“There’s a big question over the legality of this… I think he has exceeded his remit - I think he has done so to meet a very widespread concern that people were using the second allowance as a form of income, but in fact that is a concern for the other review from Sir Christopher Kelly.”

That she believes questions of legality arise implies that it is correct for MPs to resist the Legg commission’s requests, and to take legal action if necessary. The legal case is clear - the Legg commission has imposed a retrospective charge on maintenance expenses; that can and should be resisted as such a charge is in breach of the law. Widdecombe is standing down, but that she’s untarnished by the expenses scandal and advocate of reform makes her opinion noteworthy. Perhaps less virtuous Tories, seeking re-election, will follow Widdecombe’s train of thought

UPDATE: Add to that the condemnation of liberal lion Norman Baker (that Sir Thomas' report was a "rushed job") and the case for resisting the Legg Commission is building.

UPDATE: Martin Salter has added his voice, saying that some of the information put to MPs by Sir Thomas Legg was “quite amazingly inaccurate”.