McNulty: 'I have not broken expenses rules'

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The Independent Online

A Government minister today insisted that he has not broken House of Commons rules by claiming a parliamentary allowance to pay the mortgage on the house where his parents live.

Employment minister Tony McNulty said he would not return the estimated £60,000 he has received for the property in his Harrow East constituency since 2001/02, but confirmed that he has stopped claiming the second home allowance.

Mr McNulty said that he uses the house as a base two or three days a week while working in the constituency, and used to sleep there at weekends when he first entered Parliament.

But Conservatives questioned the claim, pointing out that Mr McNulty's constituency office where he holds regular weekly surgeries is less than two minutes' drive away and suggesting that he appears to visit the house only to see his parents.

Conservative MP Greg Hands said Mr McNulty's position looked "indefensible".

"He admits that the arrangement looks odd and that he stopped it in January, but won't repay the £60,000 he took from taxpayers to fund it," said Mr Hands.

"He says that he uses the house for constituency work but his office is just round the corner. Now he says that MPs in the South-East shouldn't be claiming housing allowances, when he voted against a similar proposal less than a year ago.

"Once again, the position of one of Gordon Brown's ministers looks indefensible. It clearly needs to be investigated."

Mr McNulty lived with his parents in the Harrow house, which he owns, before his 2002 marriage to second wife Christine.

After moving into her home in Hammersmith, west London, he claimed the second home allowance on the Harrow property while his parents continued to live there.

In January this year he decided to stop claiming the allowance as interest rates had fallen so far that he found he was able to meet his mortgage commitments from his MP's salary.

The Additional Costs Allowance, worth up to £24,000 a year, is paid to MPs from outside inner London to cover the cost of staying overnight away from their main home for the purpose of performing parliamentary duties.

Most MPs use the money to pay for a base in central London near to Westminster, though some, including Mr McNulty, opt - entirely within the rules - to claim for the cost of running a constituency home.

Asked on Sky News' Sunday Live why he was claiming expenses on a property where his parents live, Mr McNulty said: "I use it considerably. I work there at weekends when I am in the constituency.

"I have said clearly that I was probably spending one or two nights a weekend there early on when I was an MP. It probably is less now.

"But I think I can do my job more effectively by having that base in the constituency. I think I can do my ministerial job more effectively by having a place in London."

He explained why he stopped claiming the allowance in January: "By Christmas, I decided - not least with the direction mortgage rates have gone in and a whole range of other factors - I reflected on it and thought I could probably do without claiming it."

Mr McNulty's spokesman told the Press Association: "Tony is completely compliant with all the regulations around the allowances for second homes.

"There is absolutely nothing irregular in Tony's situation. Tony is entitled, like all MPs, to an allowance allowing him to maintain a property in central London. He chose to claim the allowance with respect to the cheaper of the two properties."

Mr McNulty said he believed there were "anomalies" in the ACA system for MPs' second homes and thought it should be looked at.

But he insisted he was not casting aspersions on the second-home claims made by 130 other MPs whose constituencies are within 60 miles of London. The "overwhelming" majority of claims were entirely legitimate, he said.

Any review of the system could look at the Scottish system, under which MSPs with constituencies within commuting distance of Holyrood cannot claim for a second home, or a flat rate pay increase for all MPs in return for giving up ACA, he suggested.

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