Tony McNulty, the Employment minister, is facing demands for an inquiry into his parliamentary expenses after he admitted claiming tens of thousands of pounds for the house where his parents live.
Conservatives said Mr McNulty's position was "indefensible" and demanded an investigation into his £60,000 expenses bill for the house in Harrow, north-west London. Mr McNulty insisted he had abided by parliamentary rules, and announced he had stopped claiming the money in January this year. But he called for an overhaul of regulations that allow outer-London MPs to recoup thousands of pounds a year for second homes in easy commuting distance of Westminster.
The Conservatives went on the attack after it emerged that Mr McNulty had claimed up to £12,400 a year since 2001-02 for his second home in his Harrow constituency – where his parents live – even though it is only 11 miles from Westminster. The row came just weeks after Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, faced similar outrage over her Redditch constituency home after naming her sister's house in south London as her main residence.
Conservative MP Greg Hands said: "He [Mr McNulty] 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. 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."
Yesterday Mr McNulty said he had stopped claiming the allowance in January as interest rates had fallen so far that he could meet his mortgage commitments from his MP's salary. But he defended his allowance claims for the property. He told Sky News: "I use it considerably. I work there at weekends in the constituency. 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."