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?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map