New storm over ministers’ lavish expenses claims
The Prime Minister and several members of his Cabinet have exploited the generous parliamentary allowances, according to a Daily Telegraph leak
The stench of sleaze has reached the highest echelons of the Labour government after the Daily Telegraph published details today which show that the practice of exploiting parliamentary allowances runs all the way up to the Prime Minister himself.
Famed for his Scottish parsimony, Gordon Brown, it transpires, has claimed £6,577 to repay his brother Andrew for 'cleaning services' at his London flat between 2004 and 2006.
Last night, Number 10 sought to explain the payment. The two men shared a cleaner, said a spokesman, and the PM was simply reimbursing his brother for his share. But why did the Prime Minister not lodge receipts directly from the cleaner? He has directly employed other cleaners.
The Telegraph also reported that Brown had claimed twice, in error, for a £153 plumber's bill. Downing Street, approached by the newspaper before publication, said the money would be repaid immediately.
As with previous revelations involving Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Employment Minister Tony McNulty, none of the expenses claims suggest ministers have broken the rules. But they illustrate how the allowances can be exploited and suggest that some senior ministers spend as much time working out how to maximise their expenses as they do reading the contents of their red boxes.
The details leaked to the Telegraph were due to be published in July. Among ministers whose claims are exposed today are:
• Hazel Blears, Communities Secretary. She claimed £5,000 in only four months for furnishing a property - one of three different properties she claimed for in the course of a single year.
• Jack Straw, Justice Secretary. He claimed back the full cost of council tax, despite receiving a 50 per cent discount from his local authority. Straw repaid the money last summer after a High Court ruling requiring the receipts to be published.
• Lord Mandelson, Business Secretary. He claimed thousands of pounds to repair his constituency home in Hartlepool after announcing his resignation as an MP in 2004.
• David Miliband, Foreign Secretary. He claimed for hundreds of pounds spent on gardening at his constituency home.
• Alistair Darling, Chancellor. He changed his official "second home" designation four times in four years to exploit the allowance system.
• Geoff Hoon, Transport Secretary. He changed his second home designation to allow him to improve his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers' expense.
• Paul Murphy, Welsh Secretary. He claimed more than £3,000 for a new hot water system for his second home, after claiming the water was too hot.
As a string of ministers issued statements saying they had done nothing wrong - "Hazel is honest as the day is long," said a spokesman for the Communities Secretary - Harriet Harman, leader of the Commons, went on Newsnight to try to limit the damage.
"If people have made claims in good faith under a system that existed at the time," said Harman, "then I don't think there is any need for resignations. But there is reason to tighten up the system."
After Gordon Brown's disastrous attempt to close down the £24,000 annual second home allowance and replace it with a daily appearance fee, the Government has put the whole issue in the hands of Sir Christopher Kelly, the standards watchdog. He is expected to propose a new system of allowances by the end of the year.
The Daily Telegraph intends to spread publication of the expenses details over several days, suggesting that it paid serious money for the leaked information. However, executives at the paper have declined to reveal whether they got the chequebook out. It had been widely reported that a disc containing the expenses details had been offered for sale at £300,000 and that two newspapers had already turned it down.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING:Francis Elliott, the Times: Andy Burnham, on reviewing his correspondence with the Commons' authorities, may wonder whether it was wise to adopt so wheedling a tone in seeking to screw a few more pounds' worth from his claim (and must surely regret using his marriage as a negotiating tool). Paul Murphy, today, may want to ask himself whether it was right that the hardship posed by his over-hot water was so grave that it warranted a claim on the commonweal. Mr Brown might himself want to ask whether it was right for taxpayers to pay his brother for cleaning services rather than submit the receipt directly from the cleaner. Although possible, such insights are, unfortunately, unlikely. Instead, the chances are that the Cabinet ministers at the centre of the latest expenses revelations will, instead, nurse a bitter sense of grievance.
Michael White, the Guardian: If there is nothing MPs can do to stop it, much of the blame lies at their own feet. Successive parliaments have resisted sensible reform of a bloated system and most prime ministers have connived in avoiding electorally-unpopular pay increases. They preferred soft options like increased car mileage or the now notorious Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) which enabled MPs to claim, not just rent on what were shabby Lambeth bedsitters a generation ago, but up to £24,000 a year in mortgage costs. That concession was one of Mrs Thatcher's. ·
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