Labour rocked by expenses revelations

Brown, Mandelson, Straw and Blears highlighted in embarrassing leak

Gordon Brown and several members of his Cabinet were deeply embarrassed last night when the full details of their expense claims as MPs were revealed.

It emerged that the Prime Minister claimed £6,500 after paying his brother Andrew for a cleaner's bill for his Westminster flat, while the Justice Secretary Jack Straw overclaimed for council tax and mortgage payments and the Communities Secretary Hazel Blears claimed for three different properties in one year.

Some 700,000 pages of expense claims by all MPs over five years were due to be published in July after the Commons lost a Freedom of Information battle. But the details have been obtained by the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which plans to disclose them over several days. The newspaper declined to say whether it paid for the information, following reports that a disc containing it had been offered for sale at £300,000 and that two other papers had turned it down. Today's first instalment, covering 13 Cabinet ministers, lays bare the MPs' discredited £24,000-a-year "second homes" allowance. It suggests that rules were lax, mistakes were made by senior politicians and MPs were subject to little scrutiny by Commons officials who approved their claims. It will raise questions over whether some of the errors would ever have come to light without the fight by freedom of information campaigners.

According to the Daily Telegraph:

* Ms Blears spent almost £5,000 of taxpayers' money on furniture in three months.

* The Business Secretary Lord Mandelson claimed thousands of pounds to improve his constituency home in Hartlepool after he had announced his resignation as an MP.

* Foreign Secretary David Miliband spending hundreds of pounds on gardening at his constituency home

* Chancellor Alistair Darling changed his official "second home" designation four times in four years

* Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon switched his second home in a way which allowed him to improve his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers' expense before buying a London townhouse.

* Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, Europe Minister Caroline Flint and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy bought flats – or the freehold on properties they already owned – and claimed back stamp duty and other moving costs. Mr Murphy is said to have claimed for a new boiler because his water was too hot.

Last night the ministers insisted they had not broken the rules.

Although the premature publication of the expense claims is bound to embroil MPs from all parties in controversy, it comes at a bad time for Mr Brown. His authority has been weakened by a Labour plan to smear senior Tories, a Commons defeat over residence rights for Gurkha veterans and his rushed attempt to reform the expenses system. While most of his proposed changes were approved last week, his plan to replace the "second homes" allowance with a daily payment for turning up in parliament was scuppered by an all-party revolt.

Receipts submitted by the Prime Minister between 2004 and 2006 disclosed that he paid his brother Andrew, a senior executive at EDF Energy, £6,577 for cleaning services.

A spokesman for Mr Brown said he and his brother had shared a cleaner at their two flats. Andrew Brown paid the cleaner and the Prime Minister reimbursed his share of the cost. "Her contract made clear the allocation of hours of work and payment," said the spokesman. "Inland Revenue and National Insurance receipts show the payments made, but it was easier for her in terms of National Insurance arrangements to be paid by one person. There is no question of Andrew Brown doing the cleaning or receiving any financial benefit."

The spokesman confirmed that Mr Brown received a £153 payment for a plumbing bill twice in two successive quarters in 2006 after a mistake in one of his claims, but had repaid £150. "That was an inadvertent error and as soon as it was brought to Gordon's attention, he contacted the parliamentary Fees Office and repaid the money," he said. The Telegraph said it told Downing Street about the mistake.

Mr Straw reportedly claimed the full cost of council tax even though he received a 50 per cent discount from his local authority. He repaid the money last summer, shortly after a High Court ruling requiring the receipts to be published. Mr Straw also repaid money he was overpaid for his mortgage.

His spokesman insisted all his claims had been in accordance with the rules. "An error arose because the amount of interest declined rapidly towards the end of the mortgage. This error was identified by the Commons authorities on information provided by Mr Straw and then repaid," he said. "It was also Mr Straw himself who spotted errors in the claims for council tax and alerted the authorities. He repaid the difference."

A controversy erupted over how the information leaked out. Sir Stuart Bell, a member of the House of Commons Commission, said: "If this was received by unauthorised means, it is disgraceful that a national newspaper should stoop so low as to buy information which will be in the public domain in July. It undermines the very basis of our democracy."

Benedict Brogan, assistant editor of the Daily Telegraph, said: "What matters is that we've established that this information is reliable and it is certainly in the public interest that we publish it."

The Commons Leader Harriet Harman insisted that no minister would have to resign: "The old system was the system that those claims were made under. We've recognised that though they might have been claims made in good faith, that's not acceptable for the future and we are changing the system."

The bill: Cabinet claims

* Prime Minister Gordon Brown claimed £6,577 in bills for a cleaner, which he shared with his brother. Also claimed for a £150 plumbing bill twice, that was subsequently paid back.

* Jack Straw claimed the full cost of council tax back, despite receiving a 50% discount from his local authority. He repaid the money last summer, shortly after a High Court ruling requiring the receipts to be published. Mr Straw also repaid money he was overpaid for his mortgage.

* Business Secretary Lord Mandelson's claimed for thousands of pounds to improve his constituency home in Hartlepool after announcing his resignation as an MP.

* Communities Secretary Hazel Blears claimed for three different properties in a single year, spending nearly £5,000 of taxpayers' money on furniture in three months.

* Foreign Secretary David Miliband spent hundreds of pounds on gardening at his constituency home.

* Chancellor Alistair Darling changed his official "second home" designation four times in four years.

* Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon switched his second home in a way which allowed him to improve his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers' expense before buying a London townhouse.

* Culture Secretary Andy Burnham, Europe minister Caroline Flint and Welsh Secretary Paul Murphy bought flats – or freehold on properties they already owned – and claiming back stamp duty and other moving costs.

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