Senior tories are to return a further £24,800 in overpaid expenses claims, bringing the total repayments by the Shadow Cabinet to more than £70,000. Thirteen members of David Cameron's top team are to pay back more claims identified as excessive by Sir Thomas Legg's audit of MPs' allowances over the past five years.
Between them, they are meeting £24,782.18 demanded of them by Sir Thomas in his final batch of letters to MPs this week. The repayments are in addition to £15,318.16 they had already returned because of his audit. The Conservative frontbenchers have also returned at least £30,000 deemed as unacceptable by an internal party investigation. Conservative MPs have now paid back more than £250,000 in claims since the expenses scandal blew up in May.
Last night, the party said it was "leading the way" on transparency of expenses claims and challenged Labour to follow its lead and disclose cabinet members' repayments. Liam Fox, the shadow Defence Secretary, was presented with the biggest new bill, being required to return £7,984.28 in mortgage interest, maintenance and council-tax claims on his second home. His total repayment to the taxpayer now stands at £12,279.20.
It is understood he is returning the money after claims were inadvertently overpaid by the Commons fees office. He said: "In October, I raised with Sir Thomas the issue of the formula used by the fees office to determine reimbursement of mortgage interest against the cost of refurbishment and repairs. Sir Thomas has subsequently asked for a repayment of £7,984.28 as a settlement for the accumulated overpayments over five years."
Patrick McLoughlin, who is in charge of party discipline as the Tory Chief Whip, was asked to repay £4,058.54 covering cleaning bills and mortgage interest. Caroline Spelman, the shadow Communities Secretary, was asked for an additional £2,167.51 for cleaning, utilities and telephone bills. She has now returned £2,635.
Andrew Mitchell, the shadow International Development Secretary, faced a demand for £2,673.33 he claimed towards council tax and mortgage interest. The shadow Business Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, is returning £1,345 for cleaning bills after successfully disputing a demand to pay back £4,733 for gardening and cleaning.
Cheryl Gillan, the shadow Welsh Secretary, is paying back £1,884.23 in mortgage interest claims, with William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, returning £601.14 in mortgage interest. Owen Patterson, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, is giving back £281.19 covering mortgage interest, council tax and repairs/maintenance. His total repayment as a result of the Legg investigation stands at £5,229.15.
Andrew Lansley, the shadow Health Secretary, is returning £877.56 for furniture, repairs and mortgage, taking his total repayment to £3577.56. Neither David Cameron, the Tory leader, or George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, are being asked to repay any more. Mr Cameron has returned £680.
Eighty MPs are challenging Sir Thomas's demands amid widespread disquiet over his calculations. Politicians of all parties are angry that he is making retrospective demands for repayment of allowances claimed in line with Commons rules at the time. But Mr Cameron has instructed his shadow ministers to comply in full with repayments.
Yesterday the Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride announced she will stand down at the next general election after heavy criticism of her expenses claims. The Bromsgrove MP had faced heavy criticism of her second-home claims. In a Christmas message on her website, she said: "I am sad to be leaving but this is entirely my decision. I would like to wish my association the very best of luck as they find my successor in the new year."