Chief Whip under fire over £18,000 food claims

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Indy Politics

Nick Brown, the man charged with investigating allegations that Labour MPs abused the system of Commons expenses, was dragged into the controversy over his own claims last night.

The Government Chief Whip, a close ally of Gordon Brown, was accused by The Daily Telegraph of claiming £18,800 over four years in unreceipted expenses for food consumed at his designated second home in Newcastle.

Mr Brown also faced questions over £200-a-month bills he regularly submitted for repairs and maintenance, plus £250 a month for cleaning, also without receipts. He is said to have claimed a total of £87,708 on his second home between 2004 and 2008. The MP for Newcastle upon Tyne East and Wallsend told his local newspaper, The Journal,that his claims were “not unreasonable”.

He said that the claims on his Newcastle home represented a “contribution” towards his costs.

“It doesn’t represent the full cost that I bear myself. When the system moved from unreceipted to receipted expenditure, I submitted receipts for everything for which I claimed,” he said. “I am also now absorbing more of the cost myself. I think it reasonable to do so because I have a higher salary as a minister.”

Yesterday, Mr Brown launched an inquiry into allegations that Labour MP Ben Chapman continued to claim £1,900 in mortgage interest with the agreement of the Commons Fees Office after his payments were cut to £400 when he paid off part of his home loan.

A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Chief Whip has spoken to Ben Chapman. He’s investigating documents provided by Mr Chapman and will seek further clarification from him and the Fees Office.”

The Telegraph,which has now published details of the expenses paid to 160 of the 646 MPs, alleged last night that John Austin, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, claimed more than £10,000 for the redecoration of his London flat – which is just 11 miles from his main home – before selling it for a £30,000 profit. Mr Austin said: “The Daily Telegraph report is inaccurate and misleading and I believe it to be libellous. I am taking legal advice.”

The newspaper also claimed that Dawn Butler, a Government whip, spent thousands renovating a house less than 15 miles from her main residence, claiming for a Jacuzzi-style bath to be fitted in her north London second home while saying her main home was in east London. She claimed £2,600 too much in rent, but the Fees Office allowed her to “dig out” other receipts to cover the over-claim.

Patrick McLoughlin, the Tory Chief Whip who is auditing expenses claims by MPs in his party, claimed £3,000 for new windows at his second home while Steve McCabe, a Labour whip, overclaimed on his mortgage by £4,059.

Diana Johnson, a Labour assistant whip, spent £1,000 hiring an architect for a decorating project at her second home