David Cameron has sought to embarrass Gordon Brown over his expenses bill by pledging he will not claim the "second homes" allowance for MPs if he moves into Downing Street.
Mr Brown has claimed £115,000 on his constituency home in Fife since 2002 even though he has enjoyed a rent-free Downing Street flat as Chancellor and Prime Minister and has use of the country retreat, Chequers. Mr Brown's claims are within the rules, but the Tories believe he should not claim the housing allowance as he has a "grace and favour" home at the taxpayers' expense.
If he wins the election, Mr Cameron has promised the MPs' housing allowance will not be claimed by cabinet ministers who have the use of free homes. "Given that the state is effectively providing the minister with a second home, I can see no justification for them continuing to claim a second home allowance. If elected, I will make sure no Conservative minister with a 'grace and favour' residence in London would be allowed to make a claim for a second home – including me," he said.
The other Tories likely to enjoy rent-free homes if the party wins power are the shadow Chancellor, George Osborne, the shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and the shadow Home Secretary, Chris Grayling.
Labour sources dismissed Mr Cameron's pledge as a "meaningless gesture" because the system is expected to be overhauled. Mr Brown has proposed that the £24,000-a-year "second homes" allowance be replaced by an overnight allowance. One Labour aide said: "David Cameron owns his London home outright but still chooses to claim the additional costs [second homes] allowance. If this is the new Tory principle, why not apply it now?"
Mr Cameron claimed £19,626 for his Witney constituency home in 2007-08 and Mr Brown, £17,073.
Labour faced further criticism on expenses yesterday after it emerged the Transport Secretary, Geoff Hoon, claimed more than £70,000 for his constituency house and rented out his London home while living in a "grace and favour" apartment in Whitehall. He lived rent-free in Admiralty House for three-and-a-half years, moving there while he was Defence Secretary.
"I went into Admiralty House on security advice," Mr Hoon said. "I was told unless I went into secure premises I would have to have round-the-clock police protection at my home in London and that that would cost the taxpayer a great deal more." He did not accept that he had made a profit by renting out his London home or that he manipulated the system.
But Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "It is clearly barmy for ministers to indulge in a form of double counting that enables them to enjoy two homes at the taxpayers' expense. To say this is within the rules will only serve to convince the public that the rules are broken and need to be fixed as soon as possible."
There were more revelations about Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, who last week repaid £10 after submitting a claim for two adult movies watched by her husband. Yesterday it emerged that she claimed £304 on her MPs' expenses for a barbecue, garden patio set and heater as she refitted a house in her Redditch constituency after moving home almost five years ago.
Her spokeswoman said: "Everything that has been claimed for is within the rules. In the one instance where it was not, in relation to the films, the money has been paid back."
Ms Smith said she was "angry and mortified" about the claim for adult movies but denied that the incident had put her marriage at risk. Mr Brown said he had more important issues to focus on, pointing out that he had asked the Committee on Standards in Public Life to draw up reforms as soon possible.
Peter Robinson, Northern Ireland's First Minister, and his wife, Iris, who are both MPs and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, are drawing £571,000 a year in salaries and expenses between them. They live in the same Belfast house together, but are both entitled to claim the "second homes" allowance. In 2007-08 they received a total of £40,342.Reuse content