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MP Roberta Blackman-Woods calls for Michael Martin to quit

A SENIOR Labour MP last night said Commons Speaker Michael Martin should quit as part of a new “package” to tackle the expenses scandal.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods
Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods

A SENIOR Labour MP last night said Commons Speaker Michael Martin should quit as part of a new “package” to tackle the expenses scandal.

Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, assistant to Regional Minister Nick Brown, spoke out as Mr Martin tried to hang onto his job amid mounting criticism of his performance of the expenses crisis.

And she criticised claims made by some of her colleague as going "well beyond what is necessary".

Her comments came as a top Labour insider demanded by-elections in constituencies where MPs are suspected of committing fraud.

Referring to Speaker Martin, Dr Blackman-Woods, pictured inset, said: "My view is his going has got to be part of the new package, which is a new system for MPs allowances, new scrutiny system, new transparency."

The Labour MP also opened her claims to The Journal and published additional details of expenses for her second home in London on her website, where she has already published some information for several years.

She paid for a television and kitchen items from her own pocket, describing them as “not essential” to her job.

That will raise further questions about why other MPs did leave the taxpayer to pick up the tab for such goods.

Her main home is in Durham and she bought a small one-bedroom flat in London to use when in Westminster during the week after being elected in 2005.

She claims mortgage interest but not capital payments on the London property.

"I believe this arrangement represents good value for money for the taxpayer because if I were to rent my property, given its location in central London, it would cost £1,800 per month.

"But I currently claim only around £500 per month for mortgage interest payments," she said.

The MP also claims for council tax and utilities for her London flat, while covering all bills in her Durham home.

She added: “When I bought my flat I also bought the following items which I thought were essential: a bed, bedding, a bedside table and two small sofas."

She has claimed £479 for a mattress, £649 for a bedstead, £299 for a bedside cabinet, £1,574 for two small sofas and £200 for bedding.

But she slept on a sofa bed for over a year before claiming for the bed in the following year. While claiming £9,425 in stamp duty, that meant she could not claim for mortgage interest for a couple of months.

"All other items including a TV, white goods, kitchen equipment, carpet and other furnishings I paid for myself because I did not consider that these fell into the essential category," she said.

Aside from stationary and equipment for her Durham office, she arranged for a television and Sky aerial so staff could access BBC Parliament to know what was happening in Westminster - paying for more than half of the cost of the television herself.

"While I am in Westminster, in common with other public and private sector organisations, I claim subsistence of £25 per day for working away from my main home," she said.

Dr Blackman-Woods said she believed MPs should abide by the spirit and letter of rules on expenses, only purchasing what was "essential" to do the job - and that she had always done that.

"I am disturbed by some MPs' claims which have been reported in the media which, I think, go well beyond what is necessary. I have already voted to change the current system," said the Labour MP.

 

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