MP: I'll keep my �10,000 payout

ANOTHER Norfolk MP was in the expenses row firing line last night after he refused to hand back a �10,000 windfall earned from living in his London flat paid for by the taxpayer.

ANOTHER Norfolk MP was in the expenses row firing line last night after he refused to hand back a �10,000 windfall earned from living in his London flat paid for by the taxpayer.

Tony Wright, Labour MP for Yarmouth, claims he did nothing wrong in keeping a �10,000 payout when the rent at his then London flat was increased four years ago.

He was given a �10,000 sweetener to compensate for the increased rent, even though the rent was paid by the taxpayer.

He says the �10,000 was not taxpayers' money but was paid by the property company which owned the flats. He justified keeping it by saying he took a financial hit from having to work in London when he was first elected in 1997.

Last night, Mr Wright was adamant the money was staying in his bank account and said the electorate would decide whether his actions were justified at the next election.

His refusal to hand the money back follows criticism of two fellow Norfolk MPs, Christopher Fraser and Dr Ian Gibson, in the furore over expenses.

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Mr Wright is one of 13 MPs who have admitted taking various lump sums from the new owners of the Dolphin Square apartment block in Westminster either to move out or accept higher rents in 2005.

Yesterday, he said he stood by his decision to pocket the �10,000 - despite one minister refusing a �42,000 payout from the block's owners as it was, in his opinion, the wrong thing to do and another MP returning his payout.

After taking the �10,000, Mr Wright continued to claim expenses from living in the flat for another three years.

In 2007-08, he claimed �16,315 rent in expenses - an increase of �4,257 compared to 2005-06. He now lives in a cheaper flat.

Mr Wright, who has represented Yarmouth for 12 years, says he will stand in the next election and is sure his constituents will weigh up his value for money as an MP and his work in looking after the interests of the town over the keeping of the lump sum.

He said: “As MP I have never acted illegally or brought disrepute to the House of Commons. It was not taxpayers' money I accepted.

“At the end of the day, it personally cost me a considerable sum to come to London in 1997.

“I sincerely and genuinely apologise if I have offended anyone. If anyone disagrees with me they can disagree with me by exercising their democratic right at the ballot box.”

In 2007-08, Mr Wright claimed a total of �23,131 from running his second home and he says that overall he is good value for money as each of his constituents only pays 5p a week to fund all his activities.

Last month, it was revealed that in 2005 Mr Wright claimed �522.97 for a new television and iron while in September 2007 there was a �175 claim for decorating costs to pay for clearing up damage from a water leak from a flat upstairs.

Conservative MP and shadow foreign minister David Lidington has repaid his undisclosed Dolphin Square fee and several Liberal Democrats have referred themselves to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over the issue.

Twenty-two MPs at the Westbrooke Associates-owned apartment block refused any payout.

A former unnamed minister who refused a fee said: “I was offered because I have lived there for 20 years and it was based on the length of tenancy. I thought taking the money was wrong.”

Brandon Lewis, the prospective Conservative parliamentary candidate for Yarmouth, said: “MPs should get a fair salary, they should not be taking substantial windfall benefits from hardworking taxpayers and I hope that we will see this money paid back to the public purse and an apology, at the very least.”

On Friday, Mr Fraser announced he would not stand at the next election as MP for South West Norfolk because of his wife's ill health.

The Conservative MP said the decision had nothing to do with the revelation that his main home was in Dorset and that he had spent �1,800 of taxpayers' money on trees and fencing at his second home in South Lopham, near Diss.

Dr Gibson, MP for Norwich North, has been referred to a Labour Party “star chamber” over allowing his daughter and her partner to live at his London flat rent free before selling her the property for considerably less than the market price.

Commenting on the whole expenses scandal, Mr Wright said: “Like myself, the vast majority of MPs work hard for their constituents and have done nothing wrong.

“But I cannot defend the indefensible. I know there are things that should not have happened. We should have grasped this problem much earlier.

“I can totally understand the pubic outcry over the expenses fiasco.”

Mr Wright also believes that the Conservative Party has come out worse in the expenses scandal.

He said: “I would rather have John Prescott claim for two broken toilet seats than Conservative millionaires claim �23,000 for their second homes.”