MPs' expenses: cash secrets of MPs who tried to stop you seeing their expenses
The full details of the taxpayer-funded expenses claimed by the MPs who battled to keep them secret can be disclosed for the first time.
An investigation by The Sunday Telegraph has established that backers of a Bill two years ago which aimed to exempt Parliament from the full force of the Freedom of Information Act have benefited from thousands of pounds paid under the second home expenses system.
Examples ranged from a former government whip who “bought out” his partner from her share of a London flat at a cost to the taxpayer of thousands of pounds, to a Tory grandee who spent thousands of pounds of public funds on his country estate before selling it.
A shadow minister claimed a £7,000 bedroom suite and a £2,200 television and “flipped” his second home, while a Labour election co-ordinator bought 16 bedsheets within the space of two months for a one-bedroom flat.
The MPs, who all backed the 2007 Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill introduced by David Maclean, the former Conservative chief whip, will face questions over their use of expenses and will come under pressure to return money.
Supporters of Mr Maclean’s Bill said they were acting to protect the confidentiality of constituents. Yet MPs opposing the Bill told the Commons repeatedly that its main impact would be to keep expenses secret.
The latest disclosures came as the fallout from the MPs’ expenses scandal showed no sign of letting up. David Chaytor, a backbench MP, was suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after he admitted he had claimed nearly £13,000 for the mortgage on a London flat after it was paid off.
The Metropolitan Police and Crown Prosecution Service are due to meet this week to decide whether to start a criminal inquiry following the Telegraph’s investigation into the misuse of the expenses system by MPs from all sides of the House of Commons.
The latest disclosures include:
- David Maclean, who introduced the 2007 Bill, spent more than £20,000 doing up his farmhouse under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) before selling it for £750,000.
He was entitled to the money because the property was designated as his “second home” with the Commons authorities, yet Mr Maclean did not pay capital gains tax on the sale because the taxman accepted it was his main home.
- David Clelland, the Labour MP, “bought out” his partner’s share of a joint mortgage on a flat in London in a deal which cost the taxpayer thousands of pounds plus legal fees. After the deal, which was approved by the Commons fees office, his taxpayer-funded mortgage interest payments increased by almost £200 a month.
Mr Clelland, who cited the “increasingly bureaucratic” nature of the expenses system and fears of “press intrusion” as reasons for ending the joint mortgage, also submitted a claim including 36p for fuses.
- Fraser Kemp, a former government whip and one of Labour’s key election strategists, made repeat purchases of household items within weeks of each other for his one-bedroom flat.
He bought 16 sheets within seven weeks and tried to claim for a £1,699 television only for the fees office to turn the claim down.
A year earlier he had successfully claimed for a £599 television. Last night he described some of his purchases – including the bed linen – as an “error” and offered to make repayments.
- Julian Lewis, the shadow defence minister and one of the most outspoken opponents of the disclosure of MPs’ personal details, asked if he could claim £6,000 expenses for a wooden floor with acoustic underlay but was told by officials in the fees office that this “could be seen as extravagant”. However, he was permitted to claim £4,870 to upgrade the London flat, as well as £352.20 in legal fees for settling a dispute over unpaid service charges. Mr Lewis also claimed £119 for a wall-mounted trouser press and £5 for a “sweater tidy”. Last night he described the ACA as an “absolutely rotten system”.
- David Ruffley, the shadow Home Office minister, “flipped” his second home from a London flat to his Bury St Edmunds constituency before spending thousands of pounds on furniture and fittings. He successfully claimed for a £1,674 sofa – but was refused the full amount when he claimed for a £2,175 46-inch Sony widescreen HD television from Harrods. An attempt to claim £6,765 for the purchase of several bedroom items was reduced by £4,748.
Not all of the 98 MPs who supported Mr Maclean’s Bill in 2007 had questionable expenses. Some submitted low or zero claims including Labour’s Martin Salter and Ann Widdecombe, the Conservative MP.
The latest disclosures came as Gordon Brown and David Cameron faced increasing pressure to do more to address the scale of the abuse of the expenses system.
Since the Telegraph investigation began nine days ago, one minister has stepped down from his post, two Labour MPs have been suspended from the parliamentary party, while a parliamentary aide to the Conservative leader has also resigned his role.
Last night the Prime Minister pledged to take action against ministers who abuse the expenses system and claimed he was “appalled and angered” by the disclosures.
“The bottom line is that any MP who is found to have defied the rules will not be serving in my government,” Mr Brown said.
“I want to assure every citizen of my commitment to a complete clean-up of the system — that wherever and whenever immediate disciplinary action is required I will take it.” The position of Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker, remains under threat. A “no confidence” motion could to be tabled against him this week. In a leaked letter to Tory candidates campaigning in next month’s European elections, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, said the Opposition backed “the office of the Speaker,” suggesting that the Tory leadership was losing patience with Mr Martin personally.
Officially, both Mr Brown and Mr Cameron back him – although a growing number of MPs favour his early removal on the grounds that he has mishandled the expenses affair.