Sunderland MP: I won't pay back cash

Bill Etherington today said he would rather go to court than pay back his expenses.

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The Sunderland North MP slammed an independent review of Parliamentary expenses as "absolutely outrageous".

His remarks are in direct opposition to Prime Minister Gordon Brown who yesterday handed back 12,415 he claimed in cleaning, decorating and gardening deemed to be excessive. He urged all backbenchers to pay back their claims.

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But Mr Etherington said he would not pay back cash if told to do so by Sir Thomas Legg.

"If he has decided I shouldn't have claimed something which I feel was justifiable under the rules at the time, then I won't pay it," he said.

"If I don't think it's correct they can take the matter to court."

Wearsiders yesterday gave their verdict on the expenses fiasco, with 93 per cent of people in an Echo poll saying MPs paying back cash would not restore their faith in politicians.

As reported in the Echo, the 68-year-old claimed 22,922 in additional allowance costs.

That included at 2,490 for roller blinds; 150.99 on three sets of stepladders in three months; 74.44 for a razor; and a 119 radio.

In January 2004, he put in a claim for 4,038 for a number of household items including throws, bedding, 1,939 on furniture, a "silver pedestal aroma jar" for 10, a satin cushion and a dwarf tulip.

Mr Etherington, who is standing down at the next General Election, said he would not repay any claims if they were made correctly against the rules at the time, only if it was shown he had made a mistake.

He was speaking out after Sir Thomas Legg yesterday wrote to members asking some to pay back or further justify expense claims, after an audit of their papers since 2004.

He is angry about the way the Legg Review has been carried out.

"He has gone back on his word," Mr Etherington told the Echo.

"It is complete breach of trust, because the original statement in the Commons was that the Legg committee would be judging everything over the last five years against regulations pertaining at that time.

"But he has made his own arbitrary decisions and decided people have been claiming too much for gardening and cleaning.

"It's absolutely outrageous. If anyone in the private sector was pulling a trick like this they would be sacked."

Mr Etherington – who said he took a substantial pay cut when he was elected in 1992 – has previously said he has no qualms over claiming the full 400 a month for food, and even defended Tory MP Douglas Hogg for claiming 2,200 for clearing a moat at his country home.

The former president of the North East Area of the National Union of Miners has remained bullish about how the nation's elected representatives have been treated since the expenses scandal broke.

"Nobody has come out to defend the hundreds of us who haven't done anything wrong," he said today.

The city MP said if he was still a young man he would stand down at the next election because of the way MPs have been portrayed as crooks by the media.

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "It's staggering that after so much public anger and outrage that some MPs still don't get it."