Downing Street was tonight battling to defend the credibility of a series of cabinet ministers, including the prime minister, after embarrassing details of their parliamentary expenses were leaked.
In yet another blow to Gordon Brown, who has struggled to command the political agenda after the departure of his political aide Damian McBride, the Daily Telegraph tonight published the details of parliamentary expenses claims by 13 cabinet ministers. The expenses, which were due to be published in July, were leaked to the newspaper. A copy of a CD containing the expenses details has been offered in recent months to a series of newspapers for a six figure sum.
None of the ministers named by the Telegraph appears to have broken any rules. But the disclosures will be embarrassing and will fuel criticism that senior members of the government have been keen to maximise their benefits under the discredited system of parliamentary allowances and expenses that the prime minister has pledged to reform.
Among the ministers identified by the Telegraph are:
• The prime minister, who paid his brother Andrew for cleaning costs at their London flats. Receipts submitted by Brown to parliamentary authorities between 2004 and 2006 disclosed that he paid his brother, who is a senior executive at EDF Energy, £6,577 for cleaning services.
A spokesman for Brown said he and his brother had shared a cleaner at their two flats. The brother had paid the cleaner and the prime minister reimbursed his share of the cost.
The spokesman said: "Her contract made clear the allocation of hours of work and payment. Inland Revenue and national insurance receipts show the payments made, but it was easier for her in terms of national insurance arrangements to be paid by one person. There is no question of Andrew Brown doing the cleaning or receiving any financial benefit."
Brown also paid back £153 after the Telegraph pointed out he claimed twice for the same plumber's bill.
• Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, who allegedly claimed money on three different properties in one year alone. She also spent £5,000 on furniture in the space of four months after she bought the third property.
• Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who claimed the full cost of council tax back, even though he received a 50% discount from his local authority.
Straw repaid the money last summer after a high court ruling requiring the receipts to be published.
• Lord Mandelson, who claimed thousands of pounds to repair his constituency home in Hartlepool after announcing his resignation as an MP in 2004.
• David Miliband, who spent hundreds of pounds on gardening at his constituency home.
• Alistair Darling, who changed his official "second home" designation four times in four years.
• Geoff Hoon who switched his second home to allow him to improve his family home in Derbyshire at taxpayers' expense before buying a London home.
• Three ministers – culture secretary Andy Burnham, Europe minister Caroline Flint and Welsh secretary Paul Murphy – who claimed back stamp duty and moving costs on flats they bought, or the freehold on properties they already owned.
• Murphy spent more than £3,000 on a new hot water system for a second home claiming his water was too hot.
The government, which has long feared the release of the expenses of MPs will be particularly damaging to Labour because it has been office for a decade, last night attempted a damage limitation exercise. Harriet Harman, the leader of the House of Commons, appeared on BBC Newsnight to defend the way in which ministers had made claims.
She said: "If people have made claims in good faith under a system that existed at the time then I don't think there is any need for resignations. But there is reason to tighten up the system. That is why we have been making the rules clearer and subjecting them to more audit." Harman added that Brown had taken the lead – in his now notorious YouTube video – to tighten the system of allowances. Amid fears Labour would be damaged when the expenses details were released in July, he announced plans to abolish the £24,006 additional costs allowances, which is used to fund second homes, in favour of a daily allowance.
But his plan had to be shelved after it became clear that most MPs favoured leaving the matter to the standards watchdog, Sir Christopher Kelly. He will now report probably by the end of the year.
Harman said last night that ministers had done nothing wrong. "This is a general system for MPs who have got constituencies outside Westminster," she said. "It covers all parties, all MPs. We have recognised that the rules are not sufficiently clear, that is why over the past year we have been making changes."
Matthew Elliott, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "There can be no greater proof of the need for urgent reform … Taxpayers will be appalled that the rot in parliament seems to go right to the cabinet and even Downing Street."
There was no mention of Jacqui Smith, the home secretary. She faced severe embarrassment when details of her expenses, leaked to the Sunday Express, showed she had claimed for porn movies at her constituency home. Her husband watched the films while she was away.
courtsey...the guardian uk