The expenses scandal claimed its latest victim last night when the Tory MP in charge of the Commons standards and privileges committee stood down pending an inquiry into his second home allowance claims. David Curry quit as chair of the watchdog, after a month in the post, after the Daily Telegraph challenged him on why he had claimed nearly ÂŁ30,000 on a house he barely used in more than three years. The development came on a day when Labour rushed to defuse an embarrassing row with Sir Christopher Kelly, the author of the hard-hitting report on MPs' expenses, with Harriet Harman promising to introduce new laws if necessary to implement Kelly's reforms. The government move came after the chairman of the committee on standards in public life took the unusual step of expressing disappointment on Wednesday night that the Queen's speech contained no references to legislation to implement his proposals. He did so after David Cameron raised the issue in the Commons during the opening exchanges on the Queen's speech. Harman, the leader of the house, said she was willing to table amendments to the constitutional reform bill, due to complete its Commons stages shortly, if primary legislation to implement Kelly's proposals was needed. She insisted she was not trying to sweep the proposals under the carpet, or going soft on them. She also said Kelly's recommendation that the code of conduct and register of MPs remain the responsibility of parliament, instead of being handed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, could also be easily met. Privately Labour is furious at what it regards as Cameron's exploitation of the issue. The Conservatives insisted 10 issues required legislation. However last night MPs from all parties were reminded that the expenses scandal could still derail careers when Curry, the Tory MP for Skipton and Ripon, was challenged by the Telegraph over his expenses and within hours stood down from his role chairing a Commons standards watchdog. He now faces a formal inquiry. In his role of chair he would have been involved in scrutinising the business of the Commons and would have had a hand in overseeing the independent parliamentary standards authority, the watchdog set up to regulate expenses and allowances. The Telegraph accused him of claiming ÂŁ28,078 for a second home in which he had at one point had an affair and later been banned from using by his wife. A condition of Curry's reconciliation with his wife was that he did not use the property, but the newspaper alleges that not long after he moved back into the family home in Essex, he redesignated the Yorkshire property as his second home, in order to claim an allowance on it. He also said he would stand down from the standards and privileges committee for the duration of the inquiry, likely to run to several months. "Given the particular responsibilities of the chairman of the committee of standards and privileges", Curry said, "I shall refer my case to the commissioner on parliamentary standards, John Lyon, and will stand down from the chairmanship during the course of his inquiries." The committee chaired by Curry has come in for criticism recently for supposedly taking a sympathetic position on MPs accused of flouting the old system of allowances and expenses.
Published on Feb 24, 2010