THREE Labour MPs and one Tory peer will face criminal charges over their expenses, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Keir Starmer announced yesterday.

MPs Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine and Lord Hanningfield will be charged under section 17 of the Theft Act 1968.

Anyone convicted faces a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment.

They are, however, defiant.

‘We totally refute any charges that we have committed an offence and we will defend our position robustly’, Labour MPs Morley, Devine, Chaytor said in a joint statement yesterday.

Lord Hanningfield said he was ‘extremely disappointed’ to be charged.

He added: ‘I totally refute the charges and will vigorously defend myself against them. I have never claimed more in expenses than I have spent in the course of my duties.’

He said he was standing down as Tory business spokesman to avoid any ‘embarrassment or distraction’ to the party.

The Labour MPs said they believed their cases should have been dealt with by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, adding: ‘We are confident of our position and have been advised by eminent QCs.’

DPP Starmer said: ‘We have considered that question and concluded that the applicability and extent of any Parliamentary privilege claimed should be tested in court.’

Prime Minister Brown said he is ‘very angry about what has happened’.

Visiting Exeter for a regional meeting of the Cabinet, Brown told reporters: ‘We took steps some months ago to remove the right of these people to stand as candidates for the Labour Party.

‘These are very serious criminal allegations.

‘All criminal allegations have got to be investigated. It’s a matter now for the courts.

‘We have got to get rid of that old politics, it cannot be part of the new system.

‘That’s why I put forward proposals not just to reform the MPs’ expenses system but to reform the way that Parliament works and the link between Parliament and the people of this country.’

The four charged are due to appear before City of Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 11 March, less than a month before the expected start of the general election campaign.

The four will not be arrested but will be sent a summons to present themselves before the court on 11 March.

DPP Starmer said there was ‘insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of a conviction’ in the case of Labour peer Lord Clarke but said a sixth case remains under police investigation.

Former minister Elliot Morley, MP for Scunthorpe, will face two charges in relation to a total of £30,000 of mortgage interest claims on a property in Winterton, Lincolnshire between 2004 and 2007.

David Chaytor, MP for Bury North, is accused of ‘dishonestly claiming’ £1,950 for IT services and further sums of £12, 925 and £5,425 relating to rent claims on properties which he and his mother allegedly owned.

Livingston MP Jim Devine is accused of ‘dishonestly claiming’ money for cleaning services and for stationery, allegedly using false invoices.

Essex County Council leader, Lord Hanningfield, is accused of ‘dishonestly’ submitting claims ‘for expenses to which he knew he was not entitled’, including overnight stays in London.

The Daily Telegraph, which began the expenses campaign, stated yesterday: ‘John Wick, the former SAS officer who orchestrated the leak of the uncensored expenses files to the Daily Telegraph said: “The Legg report has shown that parliament was rotten to the core. We must now have a general election”.’

It has been alleged that Wick was paid a substantial amount of money for passing over the documents.