Geoff Hoon joins the ‘easy living’ brigade
The former Defence Secretary claimed expenses on his country house and rent out his London home while living in a third property rent-free
Another senior Labour politician appears to have mislaid his moral compass. After Jacqui Smith and Tony McNulty were both exposed for their ingenious use of House of Commons second home allowances, Geoff Hoon, the former Defence Secretary and now Transport Secretary, turns out to have not only claimed tens of thousands in expenses for his 'second home' in Derby, but managed to rent out his 'main home' in London while he actually lived rent-free in a grace-and-favour apartment in Whitehall.
And just like McNulty and Smith before him, Hoon, tackled at the weekend by the press, insists he has done absolutely nothing wrong and that the arrangement was approved by the House of Commons authorities.
Hoon - known as 'Buff' Hoon in some quarters of Westminster following various gaffes in his ministerial career - and his wife Elaine have owned two homes, one in Derby near his Ashfield, Nottinghamshire constituency, and one in Lambeth, south London, since before he became an MP in 1992.
Hoon says the move made sense for security reasons, which no-one disputes
In 2002, two years after he was appointed Defence Secretary, and some months before he was to oversee the sending of British troops to Iraq, Hoon was awarded a grace-and-favour apartment in Admiralty House by Prime Minister Tony Blair.
According to Hoon, the move made sense for security reasons, which no one is disputing. The apartment was also convenient, being just 100 yards from the Ministry of Defence. The Hoons were able to live in the 18th Century property - once the home of Winston Churchill - for three-and-a-half years, rent free.
What's got the Sunday papers exercised is that this enabled the Hoons to rent out their house in Courtenay Street, Lambeth for that period - at an estimated income of about £350 a week or £18,000 a year - while at the same time claiming a second home allowance on the Derby house.
Not until June 2006 - more than a year after he had been dropped as Defence Secretary and therefore had no discernible need for extra security - did the Hoons finally move out of the Admiralty House apartment.
But rather than moving back to Courtenay Street, they sold the Lambeth house for £475,000 and used the profit they made on it - estimated by the Mail on Sunday to be £325,000 - to move up the property ladder to a £635,000 townhouse in what the Mail describes as "a tranquil square a stone's throw from Parliament".
And here's the bit that suggests Hoon is not as slow as he sometimes looks: having declared Derby as his second home and Lambeth as his main residence between 1997 and 2006, the Hoons paid off the mortgage on the Derby home, according to the Mail, while Hoon informed the Commons Fees Office that he would now be designating the Derby house as his main home and the new London property as his second home.
This meant that he could claim a second home allowance on his expensive new townhouse. It is not clear what size mortgage the Hoons took out on the London property - but under Commons rules, the second home allowance does cover mortgage interest payments.
When the Mail put it to Hoon that he appeared to have made a considerable profit by "manipulating the system", he replied: "I don't accept that for a second."
But then neither Employment Minister McNulty nor Home Secretary Smith have accepted that they are at fault in any way either. Yet McNulty has been shown to have claimed expenses on a house his parents live in, while Smith has claimed her main residence is a house that actually belongs to her sister, thus enabling her to claim the second home allowance on what is her family home in Redditch.
Smith, of course, has been dragged further into the mire by the embarrassing revelation that she accidentally put through an expenses claim for a satellite TV bill at her 'second home' which included charges her husband, Richard Timney, had run up for pay-per-view blue movies.
Interviewed by the Sunday Telegraph this weekend, Smith refused to comment on rumours that Timney had since been banished to the sofa. "I think I should be very open about my expenses, but there are bits of my private life that I don't think should be open to public scrutiny," she said.
Meanwhile, a full list of those expenses claimed by Smith reveals that the taxpayer has paid £150,000 to help run the Smith-Timney family's Redditch home since 2001, including £1,000 for a new fireplace, £369 for a flat-screen TV, £414 for a cooker, £2,400 a year for cleaning and an average £11,600 a year for mortgage interest payments between 2006 and 2008.
The clamour for an end to these allowances is growing louder. Tory leader David Cameron claimed in a newspaper article on Sunday that, if the Conservatives win the next election, any minister granted a grace-and-favour property - which in his case as PM would mean Number 10 and Chequers - would not be allowed to claim the controversial second home allowance. ·
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