Hostilities between MPs and the parliamentary expenses watchdog intensified as details of £3.1 million of claims under the new system were published for the first time.
The head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) accused some MPs of trying to undermine the “professional integrity” of his staff after they were accused of helping journalists identify embarrassing claims.
The row erupted as a series of MPs vented their anger in the Commons at the body set up to set and administer expenses claims in the wake of last year’s scandal.
Ipsa earlier released details of 22,000 claims submitted by MPs between May 7 and August 31 this year – the first under a new regime designed to restore public confidence in the disbursement of taxpayers’ money to parliamentarians.
In total, £3,154,182.29 was paid out to 576 MPs during that period. Another 1,356 claims – worth £100,000 – had been rejected, mostly because of “misunderstandings of the new rules or innocent mistakes”, Ipsa said.
After the claims were made available to the public on a searchable website database, MPs accused Ipsa officials of colluding with attempts by reporters to find “juicy” and “newsworthy” details.
Labour’s Tom Harris told the Commons that MPs would not be “bullied by that kind of unacceptable and disgraceful behaviour”. Ann Clwyd, another Labour MP, pointed the finger at Ipsa’s director of communications Anne Power.
While admitting she had no proof for the assertion, the MP said Ms Power could “refute it or agree it is true, but I have every reason to believe that must be the case and there must be an answer to these stories”.
The accusations provoked a furious response from Ipsa chairman Sir Ian Kennedy, who said the allegations were “categorically untrue” and that it was “regrettable” for MPs to resort to them.
“I regret deeply, as will many, such attempts to undermine the professional integrity of members of my organisation,” he said in a statement.