Kirkbride accused over claims for family

The Conservative MP Julie Kirkbride was under fresh pressure over her use of expenses last night after allegations that both her brother and her sister were benefiting from her parliamentary allowances.

Ms Kirkbride admitted that she paid her sister around £12,000 as an "executive secretary", even though she lives more than 140 miles away from her Bromsgrove constituency and 107 miles from Westminster. It had also emerged that her brother, Ian, bought around £1,000 of electrical equipment using the allowances she is given to pay for the running of her parliamentary office. He is said to live rent-free at Ms Kirkbride's second home, running a business from the address.

Ms Kirkbride faces the prospect of having to repay the money or be deselected as a candidate if party officials decide her use of expenses has been inappropriate. She is expected to have to explain to Tory officers reviewing the expenses of all their MPs why she has the arrangement with her sister.

The MP admitted that her sister worked from her home in Wimborne, Dorset, but said that the arrangement had been public knowledge for some time. She added that her sister was a popular member of her staff. Ms Kirkbride has already been under scrutiny during the expenses scandal after her husband, a fellow Tory MP Andrew MacKay, stood down as an adviser to David Cameron for claiming £23,000 a year from the second homes allowance despite not appearing to have a main home. Following a hostile reception from constituents at a meeting on Friday night, he said he would not stand at the next election.

Ms Kirkbride faced further pressure after revealing to a local paper that she knew about her husband's expenses arrangements. "I was aware of the structure of his claims, but Andrew was advised on all his claims by the head of the House of Commons Fees Office," she said.

The Bromsgrove MP has been urged by senior party figures to meet her constituents to explain her use of expenses. Senior Tory sources have said that her case was very different to that of her husband, as she clearly had a designated main home and second home. However, David Cameron has conceded that she must answer questions over her other expenses.

Ms Kirkbride was found to be paying her sister, Karen Leadley, a salary funded by the taxpayer of £12,500 to work part-time in her office. However, it has emerged that Ms Leadley carries out the clerical work from her home in Dorset. Last night, she defended the employment of her sister and said she had done nothing wrong.

"My sister does work for me on a part-time salary of around £12,000," she said. "She lives in Wimborne, Dorset, but she has a computer which is networked to my constituency office and London office. She carries out tasks on a regular basis but her principal job is to do constituency correspondence during the parliamentary recess and many people have written to say how helpful she has been."

She said that the items bought by her brother had been sourced on the internet to find them at the cheapest possible price, adding that they were purchased, "entirely in relation to my parliamentary duties".

Leaked expenses details showed that Mr Kirkbride, 59, had claimed for a digital camera, five memory cards, four internet routers, three external hard drives, a computer printer, map software and a battery from the taxpayer. The total bill came to £1,000.52.

Meanwhile, senior Cabinet ministers have been told they do have to pay tax on money they recouped for tax advice. According to The Daily Telegraph, nine Cabinet ministers, including the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, and the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and more than 30 other members of the Government claimed back a total of at least £25,000 for accountancy costs.

A spokesman for HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) said: "It's a general principle of tax law that accountancy fees incurred in connection with the completion of a personal tax return are not deductible."

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