FENLAND: South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser to stand down at next general election

CONSERVATIVE MP Christopher Fraser last night announced that he would be standing down at the next general election because of his wife s ill health.The MP for South West Norfolk made it clear that his decision had nothing to do with the parliamentary

CONSERVATIVE MP Christopher Fraser last night announced that he would be standing down at the next general election because of his wife's ill health.

The MP for South West Norfolk made it clear that his decision had "nothing to do" with the parliamentary expenses scandal and recent headlines about claims on his second home in the county.

His resignation came on a day when the expenses row claimed the scalps of beleaguered Tory backbencher Julie Kirkbride and Labour MP Margaret Moran.

Mr Fraser's surprise announcement came just days after it was revealed that the Norfolk MP's main home was a �1.2million Dorset farmhouse - where he was an MP between 1997 and 2001 - and that he had spent �1,800 of taxpayers' money on trees and fencing for his 'second home' in South Lopham, near Diss.

The 46-year-old father-of-two was last night said to be meeting officials from the South West Norfolk Conservative group after releasing a statement saying that he would stand down at the next election. Mr Fraser stressed that his decision was not connected with the expenses issue.

He said: "With great sadness, I have decided not to seek re-selection for the next election. I have never sought re-selection for South West Norfolk because I have for some time been seriously considering whether to go forward after the next general election.

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"My wife's (Lisa) ongoing health problems and the major operation that she had last year have made it difficult to juggle my family life with my duties as an MP."

The announcement came just two days after Mr Fraser issued a statement saying that he had "every intention of continuing to serve my constituents to the best of my ability."

The news was met with "shock" by former South West Norfolk MP Baroness Shephard and local Conservatives.

Earlier this week, the Daily Telegraph reported that he spent �1,800 on 140 cherry laurels, 75 red cedars and fencing in 2007 for his �350,000 constituency home, which is designated as his 'second home'.

Mr Fraser, who was elected with a 10,086 majority in 2005, said he had also submitted his expenses to the scrutiny committee of the Conservative Party.

He said: "It has been a privilege to serve South West Norfolk, and I have enjoyed the work enormously.

"I hope that I have in some small way been able to make a difference for the people who have come to me for help.

"I pledge absolute support to David Cameron and the Conservative Party, and will work between now and the general election for the Conservative government that the country urgently needs."

Baroness Shephard, who served South West Norfolk for 18 years, last night said she was "distressed" to hear of Lisa Fraser's ill health.

She said: "I know how much Christopher has enjoyed being a member of Parliament, first in Dorset and then South West Norfolk, and I know how much this decision will cost him."

"I cannot think that the controversy surrounding MPs' expenses and the attention being paid to the issue by the newspapers can have helped Lisa's state of health. Christopher has done good work in the constituency but he has rightly put his family interests first."

"As soon as they [South West Norfolk Conservatives] get over the shock then I imagine they will want to get a candidate in quickly because of the extraordinary political times we live in."

Since his election in 2005, Mr Fraser has lobbied hard on the dualling of the A11 and attempted to change the law to give police more powers to tackle illegal raves.

He also renovated a horsebox in 2006 to create a mobile office, complete with chandelier to visit the five towns and 45 villages in his constituency.

David Pope, a member of the South West Norfolk Conservative Association management committee, added that he was surprised at the news.

He said: "It was a shock, there were some questions about his expenses, but I think he resolved that. I would have liked to have seen him do another term.

"What he did for the constituency, he put his heart and soul into and I would never run him down for his performance as an MP.

"The only question we had was whether he should have lived more locally, but in the short time he was here he served this constituency very well."

Mr Fraser's statement came after two MPs succumbed to intense pressure over their expenses.

Julie Kirkbride, MP for Bromsgrove, said the situation had become "unbearable" as she followed husband Andrew MacKay in announcing her departure from Parliament at the next general election.

Almost simultaneously, the Labour MP for Luton South, Margaret Moran, said she would be stepping down, complaining that the furore over her �22,500 dry rot claim had damaged her health.