Page last updated at 21:33 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

Ex-minister told to repay 13,837

Tony McNulty: "I should have been much clearer about my arrangements"

Former minister Tony McNulty has apologised unreservedly to MPs after being ordered to repay £13,837 of expenses claimed on his second home.

He was investigated by Parliament's standards watchdog for claiming for a property in which his parents lived.

He acted on advice from the Fees Office which was "mistaken", the report says.

Mr McNulty apologised and said he would repay the money. He had followed the rules but should have "had much more care" about how they were perceived.

'Sole residence'

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the system had to be "amended as soon as possible".

Mr McNulty lives with his wife in Hammersmith, west London but claimed for a second home nine miles away in his Harrow constituency and 11 miles from Parliament.

The Harrow property had been the "sole residence of Mr McNulty's parents", who paid bills but not rent, since 1998, the report said - the mortgage was in his name.

But he claimed expenses on it as his second home between early 2002 and December 2008, spending between 52 and 66 nights a year there.

This had the the effect of subsidising the living costs of Mr McNulty's parents from public funds
Standards report

The report published by the standards and privileges committee said that he breached Commons rules by making a claim for expenses that were "not wholly and exclusively incurred in connection with his parliamentary duties".

It said: "This had the the effect of subsidising the living costs of Mr McNulty's parents from public funds."

Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards John Lyon, said it was "reasonable" for Mr McNulty to conclude he needed a home in his constituency and that was within the rules.

He said just over £3,000 had been mistakenly over claimed for mortgage and council tax payments, but he accepted these were "innocent mistakes".

'Informal arrangement'

However he said Mr McNulty should have "formally abated his claims to reflect his parents' living costs" but between 2004-2008 had claimed "for well over two thirds of the costs of running his home" - mostly relating to mortgage interest.

Since 2004, he claimed £49,931 in running costs for the property - 69% of the total running costs. But the committee ruled that he should have claimed no more than half and recommended that he repay the difference of £13,837.44.

The report says Mr McNulty's claims ranged from between £8,251 to £12, 600 a year - well below the maximum possible - between 2004 and 2008.

Mr McNulty told the BBC he had sought the advice of the Commons fees office in 1998 - 1999 who had told him that claims for mortgage interest were "fixed regardless of occupancy".

Instead he said he had informally "abated" other costs to reflect the fact his parents lived in the house.

But the commissioner said that did not mean "a fair apportionment between his parents' living costs and his own."

And he said that advice appeared to have been sought "some years before" he started making claims on the Harrow property. He said most people would regard mortgage interest payments "as part of a household's living costs".

I apologise for any part I have played in the diminution of the standing of this House in the eyes of the public, it is however time to move on.
Tony McNulty

"This was an informal and undocumented arrangement. It was not in my view an acceptable basis on which to claim public money," Mr Lyon said.

The report says he concluded the arrangement "provided an immediate benefit or subsidy from public funds to him and through him to his parents" which was "against the spirit of the previous rules".

In his response Mr McNulty said he accepted a "more formal agreement would have been wise". But he believed the commissioner's conclusion was "neither fair nor reasonable" because it rested on "a significant reinterpretation of the rules".

However in his statement to the Commons he said the commissioner had "every right to redefine such advice and apply it retrospectively".

He said he accepted the conclusions "in full, including the requirement to repay, with no complaint and apologise without reservation to the House".

'Some difficulty'

"I should have been much clearer about my arrangements and taken steps to ensure I was not open to any charge of benefit and should have had much more concern for how these rules were perceived by the public, rather than just following them."

Later he rejected suggestions he should have been punished more severely telling BBC Radio 5 live: "I think I came out of this with some exoneration, but equally with some degree of being bruised and battered."

He also said he would have "some difficulty" in repaying the money but would do so.

Mr Lyon was asked to investigate Mr McNulty's second home arrangements by the Conservative MP Greg Hands, following media reports at the start of the year.

Asked whether Mr McNulty should be allowed to remain as an MP, the prime minister said: "Tony McNulty went before the Committee on Standards and Privileges. They've come to a view on this.

"They've got the powers to recommend expulsion or suspension. They also have the powers to ask for money to be repaid and that's what they've done."

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said she did not think people who had been disgraced by the expenses scandal should go to the House of Lords.

She apologised to MPsearlier this month for wrongly designating her constituency house as her second home.

Asked on BBC One's Question Time if she believed she had been disgraced, Ms Smith said: "Yes, I think to a certain extent I have been. I think it's obvious because I have made an apology to Parliament that I was wrong. That's why I made the apology."

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