David Cameron held out the prospect of an eventual return to government for David Laws despite the scathing verdict yesterday into his expenses claims.
The former Liberal Democrat minister, who was forced to quit last year after just 17 days in the Cabinet, is to serve a seven-day suspension from the Commons for breaking parliamentary rules by renting accommodation in London from his partner.
His friends were livid over the punishment, which they claimed was far harsher than that meted out to MPs who had been more mercenary in their claims. They insisted his main motivation was to maintain his privacy as he had not openly declared his homosexuality at the time.
But the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, said the Yeovil MP should have been open about his living arrangements and detailed six breaches of the rules applying to MPs at the time. Mr Lyon said: "His wish to maintain his personal privacy cannot, in my view, justify – although it may explain – such conduct."
The Commissioner concluded that as well as failing to declare his relationship with his partner, Jamie Lundie, Mr Laws had claimed too much in rent and was wrong to designate his house in his Somerset constituency as his main home. The Commons Standards and Privileges Committee accepted the conclusions and ordered his suspension for seven days when Parliament is sitting, beginning on 7 June.
Mr Laws apologised "without reservation" to the Commons, accepting "complete and personal responsibility" for his mistakes. The Commissioner's conclusions virtually rule out any chance of Mr Laws returning to the ministerial ranks this year. But Mr Cameron and Nick Clegg – both admirers of Mr Laws's abilities – were careful yesterday to leave open the door to his eventual return.