The blackout: Another dark day and that's just the half of it
MPs finally released their expenses yesterday – but with vast chunks of the documents censored, so we would never have known about their 'flipping' and tax dodges. Despite this, it still emerged that Tony Blair claimed £6,990 for roof repairs two days before quitting as Prime Minister, and Tory leader David Cameron had to pay back £947 of wrongful claims. No wonder they wanted to keep us in the dark
Britain's political leaders suffered a black day yesterday as Cabinet ministers and top Conservatives faced new embarrassment over their expenses and charges of a cynical cover-up.
Huge sections of their allowance claims were blanked out when Parliament finally bowed to a court instruction to publish a record of MPs' spending. Enough details escaped the Commons censors to raise new questions over their demands on the public purse.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Chancellor Alistair Darling, Tory leader David Cameron, shadow Chancellor George Osborne and former prime minister Tony Blair came under fresh scrutiny over their expenses.
The expenses culture permeating Westminster was highlighted by an array of bizarre claims from leading MPs, which included 1p for a mobile phone call, 48p for a stamp and £395 for a designer laptop bag.
Last night, Gordon Brown said he had repaid more than £800 that he had overclaimed since 2006. The biggest proportion – £466 – covered a cleaning bill paid for two quarters instead of one. A further £153 covered an "inadvertent duplicate claim" for plumbing in his Scottish home, £87 for overpaid service charges on his London home and £95 for a utility bill from 2006-07.
Dozens of MPs have repaid nearly £500,000 in allowances received over the past five years, according to parliamentary figures revealed last night.
John Lyon, the Parliamentary standards commissioner, said he was considering complaints against Mr Darling and Mr Osborne over their expenses. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Stephenson, said parliamentary authorities had given full co-operation to officers seeking further information about some cases.
The Chancellor's expense claims revealed he had been threatened with a downgrading of his credit rating and a visit from bailiffs for failing to pay two bills. A spokeswoman said he paid them as soon as he became aware of them.
New members of the Cabinet made some apparently questionable claims.
Ben Bradshaw, the new Media and Culture Secretary, claimed £20 for an engineer to plug a cable into his television. Workers in his office had been trying to fit the cable the wrong way round. He claimed for a £400 digital camera, three types of tea and a 33p pint of milk. His spokesman said that all the claims had been submitted by staff and approved by the Fees Office.
The new Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, made a successful claim for a £550 sat nav system for his car and a £39.99 Bluetooth headset. MPs are supposed to claim only for items necessary to perform their parliamentary duties and claims must not be excessive. He also claimed for repainting his gates in 2004. Mr Ainsworth has stated he always acted within the rules.
The possible investigation into Mr Osborne centres on mortgage claims for his second home, near Macclesfield, which he and his wife Frances bought for £445,000 in 2000 after he was adopted as Tory candidate for Tatton. A Labour party member in Tatton spotted that he took out a £450,000 mortgage on the property – more than he paid for it when he bought it outright – and has been claiming £1,646 a month for interest payments. A spokesman for Mr Osborne said that the cost of moving in and doing essential repairs "was in excess of £480,000".
Mr Cameron said he was handing back almost £1,000 after uncovering new discrepancies in his expenses. He has already said he would pay back £680 claimed for maintenance, including removing wisteria, on his constituency home. Yesterday, he came up with a list of smaller sums, including £219 that he had mistakenly overclaimed the year he switched his mortgage lender, and £9 overpaid for a gas bill. In total, he is handing back £947.
His staff said the mistakes had been uncovered during a thorough check carried out within his office, and could not have been uncovered from the information published yesterday.
Mr Cameron said: "I have used this opportunity to say I have been through my accounts in detail and have discovered an inadvertent error which I have paid back. I didn't do this because of any media enquiry – I just thought it was right."
The published receipts also disclosed that Tony Blair claimed almost £7,000 for roof repairs to his constituency home two days before he left office. His spokesman said the work was carried out before he announced his departure.
The heavily-edited records of more than one million claims contained in 5,500 files were posted on the parliamentary website almost seven weeks after The Daily Telegraph began printing full details. Almost 20 MPs have said they will resign from Westminster since the stream of disclosures began.
Many of the apparent abuses of the Commons rules would not have come to light from the censored official version produced yesterday morning.
As all home addresses had been blanked out on security grounds, it would have been impossible to detect instances of "flipping", when MPs such as Hazel Blears switched the designation of her main parliamentary home to avoid capital gains tax. Nor would cases of MPs claiming for already-paid "phantom mortgages" have been revealed. Labour MPs David Chaytor and Elliot Morley have been forced to say they will resign at the next election after their unedited claims were checked against Land Registry records.
Journalist Heather Brooke, one of three people who launched a Freedom of Information action against the MPs, said that blacking out addresses had shut off "the only way to police effectively whether there is a second home and whether the mortgage exists".
Maurice Frankel, from the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said what had been published was a "poor substitute". Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker condemned the "censorship".
PM's publicity shots charged to taxpayer
Gordon Brown, Prime Minister
The Prime Minister was one of several senior politicians to claim for publicity shots of himself. His published receipts showing that he claimed £176.25 on his communications allowance for a CD containing photographs of himself. The bill had been labelled "photographic work".
Culture Secretary calls out emergency TV help
Ben Bradshaw, Culture Secretary
He may have been installed as the new Culture and Media Secretary, but in January 2008, Ben Bradshaw billed the taxpayer £20 for an engineer to attach a cable to his digital television set-top box. The engineer found members of his staff "trying to connect the scart [cable] the wrong way around". Squeaky clean? He also made multiple claims for washing-up liquid, a £1.20 bus fare and a copy of Robin Cook's diaries, costing £20. He billed the taxpayer for a £400 digital camera, three copies of 'Attitude' magazine, three types of tea and an Aero chocolate bar. A spokesman for Mr Bradshaw said the claims were "submitted by his staff and approved" by the Fees Office.
No ticket to travel? Just claim back the fine
Yvette Cooper, Work and Pensions Secretary
Ms Cooper had some explaining to do after a receipt showed she billed the taxpayer for a £148.50 train fare incurred for boarding "without tickets". A spokeswoman for Ms Cooper said the bill had been incurred by a member of staff, but they did not have to pay any extra for buying the ticket once on the train.
From £575 dresser to 15p notebook
Bob Ainsworth, Defence Secretary
The newly-appointed Defence Secretary claimed for a £550 Sat Nav device in August 2005, while he was a deputy whip of the Labour Party. He also claimed for a Bluetooth headset device. Both appear to have been approved by the Fees Office. Mr Ainsworth also billed the taxpayer for "photo-framing" worth £84.22 in February 2007, as well as a £250 digital camera and a £73.64 bill for painting his front gates. His smallest claim was for a 15p notebook. His office would not return calls last night.
Footing his own Christmas expense
Jack Straw, Justice Secretary
His expenses showed a bill for £510.84 for the printing of 1,000 Christmas cards in 2005. His office claimed last night that the amount was never paid out and that Mr Straw traditionally paid for the cards from his own funds.
Ed Miliband, Climate Change Secretary
Claimed £35.36 for pictures of himself in a parliamentary debate in 2005. His office told the BBC they were used in constituency newsletters.
Tony Blair, Former Prime Minister and MP for Sedgefield
Just two days before leaving Downing Street, Mr Blair submitted a claim for £6,990 roof repairs to his constituency home in Sedgefield, Co Durham. The claim was reduced to £4,453 by the Fees Office. He also spent £260 on shredding in his last three months before quitting as an MP. A spokesman said the repairs had been carried out six months before he stood down.
*Mr Blair is pictured in November 2003 outside the house with George Bush.
Failure to pay bills threatens credit rating
Alistair Darling, Chancellor
The Chancellor faced new embarrassment after it emerged he had been threatened with a visit from the bailiffs and warned that his credit worthiness would be downgraded over a failure to pay two bills. In a letter from Scottish Power dated September 2006, the Chancellor was told he had failed to pay an electricity bill of £108.60 and that if left unpaid, it "may lead to your future credit rating being affected". He also received a letter from Edinburgh City Council in November 2007, warning that an unpaid rates bill of £3056.13 could lead to "legal proceedings for recovery".
A spokeswoman for the Chancellor said that he had not been aware of the demands because they had been sent to an incorrect address, but that he paid both bills as soon as he knew about them. "All the money has, of course, now been paid," she said. Mr Darling had already been forced to apologise after it emerged he had claimed the second homes allowance for more than one property at the same time. He agreed to pay back £700 of overclaimed money. Mr Darling's expenses also show that he claimed for a 250ml hand soap costing £3.29 in 2007.
Labour back bench
Tony McNulty, Employment Minister
The complicated second homes claims that forced Mr McNulty's resignation are not evident in the censored receipts. They show he was reimbursed for a 48p stamp.
James Purnell, MP for Stalybridge and Hyde
Mr Purnell claimed for 3,000 promotional fridge magnets that he ordered at a cost of £247.He also purchased a 3kg jar of mint imperials for £16.64 plus VAT.
Blair claims £6,990 to fix roof 48 hours before leaving No 10
No sum too small for millionaire heir
George Osborne, Shadow Chancellor
The man who aspires to be in charge of the nation's money had bailiffs threatening to visit him over an unpaid bill from an IT company. Mr Osborne received a letter demanding that he immediately pay the £210 debt to Demon Express, which was passed to the Fees Office who paid up.
It appears that no sum is too small for the millionaire wallpaper heir. His claims include £1.79 for blotting paper, 60p for staples and 49p for a paper clip. Mr Osborne also claimed for four jars of Nescafé coffee costing £11.22 each, and £47 for two DVDs of himself speaking on the subject of "Value for Money". In 2004 he claimed £276 for a digital camera, then a year later claimed £600 for another. His taxi receipts include £440.62 he paid to be chauffeur-driven from Cheshire to London. (He has since agreed to pay this back.)
How Cameron led by example
David Cameron, right, Conservative leader
By announcing yesterday that he is repaying £947 he had wrongly claimed, Mr Cameron drew attention away from some of his quirkier claims. They include a copy of the Penguin Book of Historical Speeches, which he bought for £10.99 while he was helping Michael Howard prepare for the 2005 general election. During the leadership contest that followed Mr Howard's resignation, Mr Cameron claimed £150 for a lost pager, in the same week that his friend George Osborne claimed for the same thing. Mr Cameron's other claims include six plates, two glass cloths and a tray from John Lewis, which cost £32.
Choc-chip shortbread and Twinings tea
Dominic Grieve, Shadow Justice Secretary
The Beaconsfield MP's staff must have a sweet tooth. A succession of receipts from Waitrose include packets of choc chip shortbread (99p) and ginger shortbread (99p), washed down with cups of Twinings tea (£2.09).
The 1p claim for a mobile phone bill
Jeremy Hunt, Shadow Culture Secretary
Among other claims such as £545 for seven Venetian blinds and £120 for a coffee table, the South West Surrey MP submitted the smallest claim – 1p for a mobile phone bill.
Tory back bench
Hugo Swire, MP for East Devon
Swire claimed £395 for a laptop bag bought at Mulberry of Bond Street, a luxury fashion and leather retailer. Afterwards he said he felt on reflection it may be deemed extravagant" and repaid the money last month. He also submitted a £5 claim for a Glyndebourne festival programme.
Maria Miller, MP for Basingstoke
She submitted invoices for more than £200 spent on Amazon. They included political titles including two books on Tony Blair, as well as novels by Robert Harris and Terry Pratchett. Several children's books, including Vikings Don't Wear Pants: Potty Poems of the Past, appeared on the invoice. A spokeswoman said that she did not claim for all the books listed.
Andrew MacKay and Julie Kirkbride, MPs for Bracknell and Bromsgrove
The husband and wife MPs were each claiming very similar amounts for their mortgages. But with so much blacked out, it would not have been possible to find out which homes they were claiming for if MacKay, fearing exposure by The Daily Telegraph, had not volunteered the information that between them they had two "second" homes but no shared first home.
John Bercow, MP for Buckingham
The candidate for the vacant Speaker's chair claimed £1,197.51 for a sanitary towel blockage. Mr Bercow subsequently claimed a further £933.14 for replacing the toilet.
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