MPs hired ex-minister's husband for tax advice

An MP's husband provided personal tax advice to at least five Labour MPs - including Foreign Secretary David Miliband - paid for by parliamentary expenses, it emerged today.

Dennis Bates, who is married to former Foreign Office minister Meg Munn, received more than £5,000 of taxpayers' money from the MPs over several years, according to leaked documents seen by the Daily Telegraph.

Four of the MPs named, including Foreign Office minister Gillian Merron (Lincoln), last night defended the claims, made under the parliamentary office allowance system.

They insisted that claiming for tax advice was allowed by the Green Book, which sets out the rules of the expense system, and that Mr Bates was "eminently qualified" to provide it.

Mr Bates is also paid from the public purse as parliamentary assistant to Sheffield Heeley MP Ms Munn, who worked alongside Mr Miliband and Ms Merron in the Foreign Office until last year.

The other MPs to whom he gave advice were local government minister John Healey (Wentworth), schools minister Jim Knight (Dorset South), and Sheffield Hillsborough MP Angela Smith.

All the receipts were identical and ministers were asked to send cheques to the couple's home address. In 2006/07 the ministers were each charged £345 for "professional services in connection with your personal tax affairs". Mr Healey claimed expenses on half of the fee, which he said related to advice for his office costs.

In a statement, Ms Merron, Mr Healey, Mr Knight and Ms Smith said: "Dennis Bates worked for 12 years for the Inland Revenue, specialising in the tax affairs of small businesses and is eminently qualified to provide advice to make sure Members of Parliament are properly meeting all their tax liabilities in relation to their office costs and allowances.

"The Green Book which sets out the rules and advice on behalf of the Parliamentary Authorities states specifically that professional advice, for example on tax and legal matters, is an allowable expense.

"Many MPs rightly seek professional assistance and advice where this relates specifically to their role as Members of Parliament and the expense is therefore legitimate and justifiable. The purpose of this is to ensure all tax liabilities connected with parliamentary duties are properly dealt with."

The report came a day after the Telegraph printed details of nine Cabinet ministers - including Chancellor Alistair Darling, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears - who between them spent more than £11,000 on accountants from the office allowance, which is available to MPs on top of their second homes allowance.

But the ministers insisted that the accountancy bills were in relation to their work as MPs and that the claims were allowable under the Commons rules.

Meanwhile, the allowances of embattled Tory MP Julie Kirkbride were once again in the spotlight, after it emerged that her brother bought around £1,000 of electrical equipment using her parliamentary office expense account.

Among the items purchased by Ian Kirkbride was a digital camera, even though his sister had bought another camera on expenses the previous year, reported the Daily Telegraph.

Ms Kirkbride is the wife of Andrew MacKay, who was sacked as David Cameron's aide after it emerged he had claimed second home expenses of £23,000 a year on his London address despite not having a property in his Bracknell constituency. He later announced he would step down as an MP at the next election.

The couple were living at an address in Ms Kirkbride's Bromsgrove constituency which was listed as her second home and his main residence for expenses purposes. However, Ms Kirkbride has resisted pressure to follow her husband's lead and stand down, as she insists she has done nothing wrong.

Responding to the new allegations last night, she told the Press Association: "My brother had the time to source things on the internet at the cheapest price.

"All the things that were bought were entirely in relation to my parliamentary duties."