Page last updated at 18:19 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Complaint made over MP's expenses

Tony McNulty
Tony McNulty's spokesman said the MP had been "compliant" with the rules

A Tory MP has lodged an official complaint about Labour minister Tony McNulty's second home expenses claims.

Greg Hands has asked Parliament's standards commissioner John Lyon to look into whether rules were breached.

Work minister Mr McNulty has claimed £60,000 since 2002 for the house in his Harrow constituency - 11 miles from the Commons - where his parents live.

He says he did not break any rules but the case has added to pressure for a wide-ranging probe into MPs' expenses.

The independent Committee on Standards in Public Life, set up in the 1990s to look into parliamentary sleaze, is to look at the system, the BBC has learned.

Tory MP Greg Hands explains why he has lodged a complaint

'Get a grip'

It is understood the inquiry into the whole system of expenses and allowances is likely to begin in the autumn - the committee ruled out an inquiry in this parliamentary session last month.

Mr Hands, MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "I think Gordon Brown has to get a grip on what his ministers are up to."

Map of Greater London
Map showing distance from Tony McNulty's home to Westminster and his parents' home for which he claimed expenses

He added: "Sixty thousand pounds of taxpayers' money has been claimed in expenses on Mr McNulty's parents' home in Harrow - clearly something has gone wrong here.

"He's the MP from Harrow and living in Hammersmith. Neither place is particularly far from Westminster and clearly I just don't think his arrangement is defensible."

Mr McNulty himself said the rules should be looked into after claiming an estimated £60,000 since 2001 for the property in his Harrow East constituency, in north-west London.

He lived with his parents in the Harrow house, which he owns, before his 2002 marriage to second wife Christine, when he moved to her home in Hammersmith.

All MPs, apart from the 25 who represent inner London constituencies, can claim up to £24,000 a year in allowances towards the cost of staying away from home while on parliamentary business.

Although Mr McNulty's Harrow constituency is only 11 miles from Westminster, he does not count as an inner London MP. His main home is eight miles from Harrow in Hammersmith, west London.

'Nothing irregular'

He said he made "considerable" use of the Harrow property and that it allowed him to do his job more effectively - but had stopped claiming the allowance in January because the fall in interest rates meant he could afford to pay the mortgage from his MP's salary.

MPs can claim up to £24,006 this year
Cannot be claimed by 25 inner London MPs
Covers rent, mortgage interest payments or hotel expenses
Can cover repair and utility bills, furnishings, insurance
Includes £25-a-night subsistence allowance, including food, for nights spent away from home
In 2006/7, 23 of the 49 MPs representing outer London seats claimed the allowance

Mr McNulty's spokesman has said the MP is "completely compliant with all the regulations around the allowances for second homes".

But former chairman of the committee for standards in public life, Sir Alistair Graham, told the BBC Mr McNulty had "questions to answer".

He said: "He talks about using it as a base to do constituency work, but he didn't say that he stayed overnight there.

"If he was not staying overnight there, and the claim is probably a bit dodgy anyway, there probably should be some money repaid."

A new system of expenses is due to come into force on 1 April. Labour MP Don Touhig, who chairs the committee which advises on MPs' pay and allowances, told the BBC that would introduce a "much stricter regime" and would make MPs examine their behaviour.

Parliament's reputation

"The three questions MPs should ask now before making a claim is: Does the claim match the purpose of the allowance in question? Could the claim in any way damage the reputation of Parliament? And how comfortable do I feel with the knowledge that my claim will be available to the public under Freedom of Information?," he said.

"These are three fundamental questions and I think every MP who makes a claim must answer those questions."

I don't think it's the greed that gets to me but the lack of accountability and punishment
Stefan Walker, Middlesbrough

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather has tabled a parliamentary motion calling for the allowance to be scrapped for London MPs.

Her party leader, Nick Clegg, said: "We should get rid of this charade all together and stop any MPs living in commuting distance from claiming this allowance at all.

"It's a legacy, I think, of years if not decades of very cosy arrangements within the House of Commons, when no questions were asked.

"I think we are now in a completely different era, that's why the rules I think need to be completely transformed."

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has defended claiming about £116,000 for her family home in the West Midlands after declaring her sister's property in London - where she stayed four days a week - as her main residence.

She said the Commons authorities had approved her conduct. The parliamentary standards watchdog has asked her to justify her arrangements.

The additional costs allowance is arguably the most controversial of all MPs' expenses and was at the centre of a high-profile freedom of information battle last year.

Plans for details of MPs' expenses to be exempted from freedom of information laws were to be put to the vote in January but were shelved after criticism from campaigners.

Commons Leader Harriet Harman then said receipts for all MPs' claims dating back to 2004 would be published, once they had been processed by the Commons authorities.

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