Ex-minister apologises to MPs over expenses

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Former minister Tony McNulty apologised today and promised to repay more than £13,000 in second home allowances which he claimed on a house where his parents live.

In a personal statement to the Commons, he said he fully accepted the findings of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee that he had overclaimed on the property.

"I accept the report's conclusions in full, including the requirement to repay, with no complaint and apologise without reservation to the House," he said.

In a report to the committee, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon ruled that while Mr McNulty was entitled to claim on the house in his Harrow constituency, he had overclaimed in relation to the time he spent there in connection with his parliamentary duties.

As a result, Mr McNulty and his parents, who were living rent-free at the property, had received a benefit from public funds that they were not entitled to.

In his statement, Mr McNulty said he had followed the guidance given by the Commons Fees Office but accepted that Mr Lyon was entitled to take a different view of the rules and to impose it retrospectively.

"I should have been much clearer about my arrangements and taken steps to ensure that I was not open to any charge of benefit and should have had much more concern for how these rules were perceived by the public, rather than just following them," he said.

"I apologise for any part I have played in the diminution of the standing of this House in the eyes of the public. It is, however, time to move on. I apologise to the House once again without reservation."

Mr McNulty originally bought the house for himself and his parents in 1998 after returning to live with them the previous year following the break-up of his first marriage.

Since late 2001 or early 2002 he began designating as his main home the house of the woman who was to be his second wife - head of the schools inspectorate Christine Gilbert - in Hammersmith, west London.

Mr Lyon estimated that between 2002/03 and 2007/08, Mr McNulty spent between 52 and 66 nights a year in the Harrow property when he was on parliamentary duty. That dropped to 33 nights for the nine months to last December.

Since 2004, Mr McNulty claimed £49,931 in running costs for the property - 69% of the total of £72,187.12 - but the committee ruled that he should have claimed no more than half, or £36,093.56.

It recommended that he should repay the difference of £13,837.44.

"We conclude that Mr McNulty breached the rules of the House by claiming against his additional costs allowance for expenses in respect of his second home that were not wholly and exclusively incurred in connection with his parliamentary duties," it said.

"This had the effect of subsidising the living costs of Mr McNulty's parents from public funds."

The committee said it had not covered the period prior to 2004 as the breakdown of the running costs of the property and the MP's claims under the additional costs allowance (ACA) was not available.

Mr McNulty rejected suggestions that he had "got away with it" and should have been punished more severely.

"I think I came out of this with some exoneration, but equally with some degree of being bruised and battered," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

He acknowledged that he would have "some difficulty" in repaying the money.

"I don't have hoards of money. I have never been a very good saver but that is what the committee says and that is what I shall repay," he said.