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Sir Peter Viggers to stand down over expenses claim

MP Sir Peter Viggers has been ordered to resign after claiming tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money for gardening expenses.

The MP, who has represented Gosport for 35 years, claimed 30,000 of taxpayers' money for gardening at his Hampshire home.

The bill, submitted for the 2006 to 2007 financial year, included 1,645 for a floating 'duck island' in his garden home – described as a 5ft high home to protect the birds.

The 71-year-old was called late last night by Tory leader David Cameron, who ordered him to stand down as an MP at the next election.

Mr Cameron also told Sir Peter to resign the party whip with immediate effect or else face explaining himself before the Parliamentary Standards Committee, which rules on whether MPs' behaviour falls within the rules of Westminster.

Conservative Central Office last night confirmed that Sir Peter had decided to face the committee.

He has also been ordered to pay back at least 10,000, although the exact amount has not yet been decided.

Opponents in Gosport demanded his immediate resignation, which would spark a by election.

Peter Chegwyn, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Gosport, said: 'This is stunning. It's amazing to think he's claimed so much of the taxpayers' money for garden ornaments.

'I've known Sir Peter for 25 years. I stood against him in two elections.

'He has always been very courteous. But people in this country have an idea politicians line their pockets at their expense and these claims seem to prove that.

'He must not hang on until a General Election. He must step down now.'

Sir Peter has courted controversy before, most recently in 2004, when he briefly accepted a 15,000 a year non-executive director role with Falkland Islands Holdings Plc, when the company took over the operation of the Gosport Ferry.

But he changed his mind and did not suffer in the 2005 General Election, where he was returned to Parliament with a 5,730 vote majority.

Mark Hook, Gosport Conservatives leader, said: 'It's a shame local politicians from all parties are being dragged into this.

'Sir Peter has to take responsibility. It's right for him to stand down and he's doing so.'

The duck island claim was included in a general expenses claim of 18,522.59 submitted by Sir Peter in March 2007. Sir Peter noted that it would be 'limited by the annual maximum and the fees office reduced it to 10,769.94.

It was unclear whether he received money specifically for the duck island.

A fees officer scrawled 'not allowable' next to it. Sir Peter also submitted a 213.95 electrician's bill including fixing lights on a 'fountain' and 'hanging lights on Christmas tree'.

The year before, the annual costs Sir Peter had submitted came to 24,164.96. He asked for part of that to be paid under a separate office costs allowance.

They included 6,960 on gardening, 1,800 on grass cutting and estate management, 533.23 on garden design, 460 on pest control, and 250 on irrigation. He submitted 'sample invoices' of 782.50 and 750.

In February 2007 officials wrote to Sir Peter asking him to submit claims based on 'actual costs' per month.

In 2007-08, the costs of maintaining his second home rose to 36,158.93 including 19,000 on gardening and 3,275 for roof and chimney repairs. He reached the maximum allowed by December 2007.

Sir Peter was today in Washington and was not immediately reachable for comment.

Before his retirement was announced he issued a statement which said: 'The claims I made were in accordance with the rules, and were all approved by the fees office. Since then the situation has changed and we must all take account of that.

'My expenses are being examined by David Cameron's scrutiny panel and I await any recommendations they may make.'

WHAT A NIGHT...

Sir Peter Viggers' night of calamity began at 5.45pm yesterday when he issued a statement through his private secretary Barbara Stevens insisting the claims had been within the rules.

But within four hours, the Gosport MP had been contacted personally by Leader of the Opposition, David Cameron MP.

Conservative Central Office issued the following statement: 'As a result of information brought to the attention of the Conservative Party by the Daily Telegraph, Sir Peter Viggers has confirmed he will retire as MP for Gosport at the next General Election.

'He will do so at the direct request of David Cameron.

'Sir Peter has also agreed to repay a substantial sum of his allowance claim. The exact figure will be decided later.'

A Party spokesman added: 'The figure has not yet been decided, but will be a five figure amount.

Sir Peter, in Washington DC with the Treasury Select Committee, of which he has been a member since 2005, was unavailable to comment after the announcement was made.

Thousands spent on gardening

The Daily Telegraph today published details of Sir Peter Viggers' expenses, which reveal he was paid 30,000 under the category of gardening over three years.

Included was the 1,645 cost of the duck house, the design of which was based on an 18th-century building in Sweden.

Also listed was a 500 claim for 28 tons of manure for the garden.

Sir Peter had an arrangement with Parliament's fees office to submit an annual list of the costs of maintaining his second home and then dividing them across the year for monthly payments.

Sir Peter stormed to victory in 1974

Westminster has been Sir Peter Viggers' stomping ground for 35 years.

When the former jet pilot walks through the corridors of power, people keep stopping him to shake his hand and say hello.

His mother remarried in the exclusive chapel beneath the House of Commons after Sir Peter pulled a few strings to get special permission.

And he has one of the few offices in Westminster with a window – although he wanted better and had applied for an upgrade.

Although only a backbencher, his length of service means his face is familiar to many.

Sir Peter was first elected as Gosport's MP in 1974, while working as a solicitor and banker.

Since then he has sat on committees including a stint as chairman of the prestigious defence select committee and his current job on the all-important treasury select committee.

He was born in Gosport and educated at Alverstoke School, Portsmouth Grammar School, Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and the College of Law.

The father-of-three met and married his wife, a doctor called Jenny, and the pair settled in Gosport.

There he is vice-president of the RNLI, a patron of the Royal Naval Submarine Museum and the Bridgeworks Trust and on the board of directors of HMS Warrior 1860.

For four years he was chairman of the governors of St Vincent College and has been involved with the work of Bridgemary School.

With his smart suits,cut-glass accent and impeccable manners, Sir Peter sums up the old-school Tory MP.

David Cameron asking him to resign is a sign the Tory leader wants to shake off this image for the Conservat-ive party of the future.

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