Payback in British MPs spending

May 13, 2009 12:00 am

, LONDON, May 13 – A British cabinet minister pledged to repay thousands of pounds of property tax in the latest fall-out of an expenses row that Prime Minister Gordon Brown said must be met with "extreme" action.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said she would pay 13,332 pounds (about 20,000 dollars, 15,000 euros) in tax that leaked expenses claims suggested she should have already paid when she sold her London flat in August 2004.

Her decision came after a fifth day of newspaper revelations about MPs’ lavish claims on taxpayers’ money prompted Brown to take decisive action.

In a round of television interviews, the premier announced an independent review of every parliamentary expense claim made over the past four years.

It was "extreme action but it is necessary because politicians must show themselves worthy of public trust", he said.

Earlier, David Cameron, the leader of the main opposition Conservatives, ordered his MPs to pay back some of their expenses claimed after reports of their lavish spending on swimming pools, gardens and a moat.

Brown’s ministers were the target of the first few days of revelations, and Blears said Tuesday she had decided to act in response to public "outrage".

She had told parliamentary authorities that her London flat was a secondary residence required for her work in the capital, a designation which allowed her to claim costs for the property.

When she sold the flat she should have paid capital gains tax as is due on second homes. However, her expenses claims showed she did not, suggesting the flat was simultaneously registered with the tax authorities as her main home.

"I have decided it’s not enough to comply with the rules and the law. What matters is what people think and feel about the issue," Blears said.

Cameron, who if opinion polls are to be believed could be prime minister within a year, earlier said the behaviour of some of his lawmakers was "unethical and wrong" and repeatedly said "sorry" for what had happened.

"When I read about the swimming pools, the moats… I am completely appalled, most of my colleagues are appalled, people want something done about this," he told a hastily-called press conference.

Cameron said leading Conservatives who claimed expenses for gardening, furniture and even tennis court maintenance would pay back what they received, and he promised to refund one bill he himself had claimed.

His party would also set up a new expenses scrutiny panel by which lawmakers must abide "or they will no longer be Conservative MPs," Cameron said.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph newspaper, which has been publishing the expenses claims, revealed the first claims details of lawmakers from the smaller Liberal Democrats in its Wednesday edition.

Party leader Nick Clegg had sought to head off any embarrassment by pledging action on Tuesday, but was forced to apologise after it emerged he claimed 80 pounds of international phone calls. He will repay the sum.

His predecessor, Menzies Campbell, claimed 10,000 pounds for refurbishing his London flat, while housing spokesman Lembit Opik claimed 40 pounds for a court summons he received for not paying his council tax. He will refund it.

Although none of the lawmakers caught up in the scandal have broken the rules on parliamentary expenses, their profligate spending has provoked fury in Britain, which is struggling through its worst recession since World War II.

A Populus poll for The Times taken over the weekend revealed the main political parties are suffering from the scandal.

Brown’s governing Labour Party fell four points on last month to 26 percent, while the Conservatives were also down four, to 39 percent. The Liberal Democrats, by contrast, were up four to 22 percent.


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