Tories next to feel heat on expenses

Cameron says sorry as spotlight switches to claims made by shadow Cabinet

The scandal over MPs’ expenses engulfed the Conservative Party last night when several shadow Cabinet members were accused of making questionable claims.

David Cameron launched a damage limitation exercise by issuing an immediate apology – in contrast to Gordon Brown, who has declined to say sorry for alleged abuses of the expenses system by Labour ministers and backbenchers.

Today The Daily Telegraph, which has obtained the expense claims of all 646 MPs over four years, discloses that:

* Alan Duncan, the shadow Commons Leader and a multi-millionaire, claimed £4,000 for gardening work before Commons officials queried such payments.

* Michael Gove, the shadow Education Secretary and one of Mr Cameron’s closest allies, spent more than £7,000 furnishing a London property in 2006 before switching his “second home” for expenses purposes to a new property in Surrey and claiming more than £13,000 in stamp duty and fees for it.

* Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, spent thousands of pounds renovating a thatched Tudor country cottage shortly before selling it and “flipping” his expenses to a Georgian flat in London, where he claimed for thousands of pounds in furnishings.

* Francis Maude, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, bought a flat in London a few minutes walk from a house he already owned, rented out the other property and claimed nearly £35,000 in mortgage interest payments on the new flat.

* Chris Grayling, the shadow Home Secretary, claimed thousands of pounds to renovate a London flat 17 miles from his family home even though he already owned three properties within the M25.

* Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Welsh Secretary, claimed for dog food on her expenses. Last night, she said that she would repay the money.

* David Willetts, the shadow Universities Secretary, claimed more than £100 for workmen to replace 25 light bulbs at his home.

* Oliver Letwin, the Tories’ policy chief claimed more than £2,000 to replace a leaking pipe under a tennis court.

Mr Cameron said: “We have to acknowledge just how bad this situation is and just how angry the public are. We have to start by saying that the system we had and used was wrong and that we are sorry about that.”

He conceded that today would be “another bad day for parliament, and for the Conservatives”, adding: “We are sorry that this happened and it needs to change. It is bad for our parliament, it is bad for democracy and it has got to change.” In future, he said, MPs’ claims should be published online as soon as they are submitted.

After three days of damaging revelations in The Daily Telegraph which focused heavily on Labour MPs, the paper today casts an unflattering spotlight on to David Cameron’s frontbench team. The picture could revive Labour allegations about “Tory toffs” and undermine Mr Cameron’s attempts to convince the public that his party has changed.

Although there was no evidence that any of the claims by top Tories broke Commons rules, Mr Cameron may come under pressure to rebuke some of his frontbench team. The Tory leader has taken a tough line on “sleaze”, removing the party whip from MP Derek Conway, who employed his eldest son as his Commons researcher when he was a full-time university student. Mr Cameron wanted to curb the outside jobs of his frontbenchers but was beaten off by a Shadow Cabinet revolt.

Last week, he said Tory MPs would “have to explain themselves” when their expenses were revealed. Yesterday Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, criticised ministers for switching their designated first and second homes and called for a “hard and fast rule” about what constitutes an MP’s primary home.

According to the Telegraph, Mr Cameron and William Hague, his unofficial deputy and shadow Foreign Secretary, both had relatively straightforward claims. George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, claimed for a chauffeur using his office allowance.

Labour will be privately relieved that the Tories have now been dragged into the controversy. Ministers accused the Tory-supporting newspaper of a “smear” against Labour last Friday after it revealed the detailed expense claims of 13 Cabinet ministers, including Gordon Brown.

Clare Brown, the Prime Minister’s sister-in-law, defended his decision to pay some of his MPs’ allowances to his brother Andrew for a shared cleaner who worked at their two Westminster flats. Writing in The Guardian today, she said she and her husband were just keeping “a bit of an eye on him on the domestic front”. She said that they began sharing costs for the cleaner because Mr Brown was so busy, insisting he was “extremely scrupulous and conscientious in these matters”.

Mr Duncan, who is responsible for Tory policy on expenses as shadow Commons Leader, recouped more than £4,000 over a three-year period.

In 2007, a bill for £3,194 for gardening was not paid by the Commons Fees Office, which wrote to Mr Duncan suggesting the claim might not be “within the spirit” of the rules.

Mr Duncan insisted last night: “It was me who raised the issue of gardening costs with the fees office. Although it was a legitimate claim, we agreed that it might be seen as too large a single item and therefore I did not claim it.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
2015 General Election

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Jemma Gent: Year End Accountant

£250-£300 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Are you a qualified accountant with strong exp...

Jemma Gent: Management Accountant

£230 - £260 Day Rate: Jemma Gent: Do you want to stamp your footprint in histo...

Beverley James: Accounts Payable

£22,000 - £23,000: Beverley James: Are you looking for the opportunity to work...

Beverley James: Accounts Assistant

£30,000: Beverley James: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for a person looki...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower