Minister to pay back £41,709 of expense claims

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Indy Politics

The health minister Phil Hope is to hand back £41,709 in taxpayer-funded MPs expenses, he announced today.

The money was claimed for furniture, fittings and other items for his second home over a five-year period.

"The anger of my constituents and the damage done to perceptions of my integrity concerning the money I have received to make my London accommodation habitable has been a massive blow to me that I cannot allow to continue," he said.

His decision came after it was announced that more than a million expenses claims by MPs over the past four years are to be scrutinised independently in a desperate bid to restore public trust in politics.

Gordon Brown backed the "extreme but necessary" measure last night as senior Labour figures started following in the footsteps of Tory frontbenchers by handing over money that they were seen to have "milked" out of the system.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said she was responding to public "outrage and the anger" by paying £13,332 in capital gains tax (CGT).

Mr Hope, the Labour MP for Corby and East Northants, insisted that all his claims were within Commons rules but that he needed to repay the money "to try to restore the trust and relationships I have with my constituents".

In a statement, he said: "I have worked very hard over the last 12 years to represent and fight for my constituents, and their opinion of me as a person matters hugely to both myself and my wife Allison.

"We feel very badly hurt by what has happened and although I kept to the rules laid down by Parliament I cannot allow this dreadful perception about what I claimed in allowances to continue.

"Whatever the right and wrongs of the allowance system, this issue has fundamentally changed the view people have of me and that is something I cannot bear.

"I have decided to try to restore the trust and relationships I have with my constituents. I am returning all of the money that I have claimed for fittings, furniture and household items that I received over a five year period - the sum of £41,709.

"This will be paid to the House authorities as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made."

Labour backbencher Mark Lazarowicz said he was going to repay £2,675 of his expenses claims for legal and professional fees because they were "much higher than many of the public would be prepared to accept".

The sum is half of what he claimed for the fees in connection with his London flat.

The Edinburgh North and Leith MP said the Fees Office had given him written prior approval for the claims which were "entirely within the existing Parliamentary rules".

"Nevertheless, it is clear to me that the payment would look high to many people, and that it would only be reasonable for me to repay a substantial part of the bill," he went on.

"The reason why the claim was so high was that what should have been a relatively straightforward legal transaction ended up in a protracted legal dispute lasting for many months.

"I hadn't realised quite how much the legal bill was until I checked my expenses and added them up on Tuesday this week."

Mr Lazarowicz added: "If we are to have any hope of restoring public confidence in our political system, all of us must examine both our claims and consciences and pay back any payments which we cannot defend with full confidence in the cold light of day."