The expenses scandal returned to haunt MPs yesterday as a minister admitted submitting a £20,000 bill to the taxpayer for work on the bell tower and roof of his country mansion.
Senior figures in the Cabinet and on the Tory front bench suffered embarrassment after expenses claims covering the last financial year were released at Westminster. Gordon Brown paid back the £500 cost of painting a summerhouse and George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, was among 60 MPs who claimed every last penny of their second home allowance. But it was Quentin Davies, the defence minister, who was facing the most searching questions following the disclosure that he put in an invoice for £20,700 for repairs to his constituency home in Lincolnshire.
The work was evenly divided between shoring up its decorative belltower and replacing gutters on the main roof of the house. Mr Davies, who defected to Labour from the Tories in 2007, sent the bill to the Commons fees office in a bundle of receipts in February.
Three months later, after the storm over MPs' expenses erupted, he wrote to officials to say he was "emphatically" not seeking any money towards the belltower work. In a statement yesterday Mr Davies said he should have asked for separate invoices for the two sets of repairs.
"The bell tower is an integral part of the roof. If it had collapsed, as it would have done if it had not been repaired, it would have smashed through the roof. I did not claim, however, in respect of it and I never had any intention of doing so," he said.
The minister said the £5,376.91 he received from the claim went towards the roof work.Last night Downing Street insisted the Prime Minister had full confidence in Mr Davies.
Although no public money was spent on the belltower, the episode is likely to become as emblematic of the expenses scandal as claims by Tory MPs Sir Peter Viggers and Douglas Hogg for a duck house and moat cleaning.
The Additional Cost Allowance claims released by the Commons authorities covered the financial year 2008-09 before the expenses furore engulfed Westminster. They underline that claiming to the maximum was habitual among many MPs before sweeping reform was agreed in recent months. Politicians had claimed for everything from widescreen TVs, kingsize beds and glazed verandas to garlic peelers, corkscrews and chewy sweets.
Sixty MPs claimed the full £24,006 to which they were entitled over the year, with another 69 receiving more than £23,500. Between them they cost the taxpayer some £10.7m, an average of £18,271 each. Mr Osborne received the maximum allowance and had £51.07 of his claim refused as he exceeded his annual limit.
A spokesman for the shadow Chancellor said the discrepancy had occurred because the payment fell between two financial years.
David Cameron, the Conservative leader, was also found to have submitted a £1,081 claim for mortgage interest on his constituency property just days after he said the expenses system needed a drastic overhaul.
Mr Brown paid back the cost of painting of his summer house after deciding it could be "questionable".
The documents disclosed that David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, received a final demand for an unpaid council tax bill and Andy Burnham, the Health Secretary, claimed £2,245 for work on his bathroom.
Jeremy Hunt, shadow Culture Secretary, is to repay £9,558.50 after the Committee on Standards and Privileges criticised him for allowing his agent to stay rent-free in his taxpayer-subsidised home. The Committee said that while public money had not been diverted to the benefit of the Conservative Party there had been a personal benefit to the agent.
Other senior Tories also faced embarrassment over the latest expenses revelations. Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, submitted a £3,500 claim for the cost of insuring a medal and a painting. James Arbuthnot, the Tory chairman of Commons Defence Committee, submitted perhaps the most bizarre claim – for the cost of three garlic peelers, bought for £43 from the QVC Shopping channel.Reuse content