Expenses scandal rocks Tory front bench

By Ian Dunt

The Conservatives have been firmly dragged into the MPs’ expenses scandal today, with several high profile figures implicated by questionable claims.

The shift in focus towards the oppositions comes as the Telegraph – which has obtained files on MPs’ claims – profiles claims made by Alan Duncan, shadow leader of the Commons, and Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, among others.

Speaking at a nursing conference in Harrowgate this morning, the prime minister apologised for the continuing scandal.

“I want to apologise on behalf of all politicians of all parties for what was happened,” he said.

“We must show we have the highest standard for our profession.”

David Cameron issued a strongly worded statement today, saying it was not enough for members of parliament to rely on the fact their claims were within the rules.

“What I want is for Conservative MPs, as with other MPs, to come out and explain why they claimed what they claimed, to admit to any mistakes, if there have been mistakes, and collectively to say ‘Look, this system was wrong, we took part in it, we operated it’,” he said.

“It’s not good enough to say we obeyed the rules. We need a big acknowledgement that we are sorry that this happened and it needs to change.”

The Tory leader’s own claims are clean, but he will face a drilling from members of the public today in a Q&A session in Warwickshire.

This afternoon, Speaker Michael Martin told MPs that the House of Commons commission would meet later today to decide whether to officially release the expenses reciepts, originally due to be published in July.

Details of MPs’ addresses will still be omitted, however. The bulk of the fiddling comes from members of parliament ‘flipping’ properties, so that they can claim on whichever property they like. It would be difficult to discover the practise without knowledge of the addresses.

Today’s revelations include:

  • Michael Gove, shadow education secretary, ‘flipping’ his properties so work and tax on the property can be claimed on public money. He spent £7,000 on a London property before designating a new property in Surrey as the second home and proceeding to claim £13,000 in stamp duty.
  • Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary, spending thousands of taxpayers’ funds on renovating a flat 17 miles from his family home, despite already owning three London properties outright. He bought the flat with taxpayer-subsidised loans and then claimed on work conducted on the property up a year after it had been conducted, allowing him to tot up more spending than would have been available in one single year.
  • Mr Duncan, who oversees the party’s expenses policy, receiving an official warning over gardening bills, which added up to £7,000 in two years.
  • Francis Maude, shadow Cabinet minister, being denied a mortgage interest payment on a family home in Sussex, and then buying a flat two years later just a minutes walk away from a house he already owned. Mr Maude then rented out the property and began claims on a second flat, with £35,000 in mortgage payments coming from the public purse.
  • Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary, claiming public money to renovate a thatched cottage, before flipping his designation and claiming expenses on a London flat.
  • David Willetts, shadow universities secretary, claiming public money to have ligh bulbs replaced at his home.
  • Oliver Letwin, leading Conservative and chairman of the party’s policy team, claiming £2,000 to repair a leaking pipe under his tennis court.

Mr Gove rejected any claim of ‘flipping’, saying he had not arbitrarily made changes, bu simply moved house.

“I only claimed stamp duty on one home,” he said. “I only claimed furniture on one home. All I did was move my family from Surrey to London.”

But he did say the decision to stay in a £400-a-night hotel at taxpayer’s expense was “a misjudgement”.

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox told the Today programme: “I think voters can differentiate between what they think are legitimate expenses for those who have to have a second home to represent them in parliament and what the public would regard as frivolous or luxury expenses.

“There is an element of common sense in that and I think voters can see that even when MPs may not have been able to see it.”

Shadow foreign secretary William Hague was given a clean bill of health.

Shadow chancellor George Osborne also came out of the publication well, although questions have been raised about his claims of £400 for a chauffer to take him from Cheshire to London and the claiming of public money to buy a website he later used for party political purposes.