Page last updated at 20:24 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Brown urges MPs' expenses probe

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown said MPs must have the "highest standards"

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has written to the chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life calling for a full review of MPs' pay and allowances.

This must look at "outside interests" including second jobs, he added.

The letter follows the news that employment minister Tony McNulty could face a parliamentary investigation into his second home allowances.

It has emerged that he claimed £60,000 in expenses for a constituency house he shared with his parents.

But Labour MP Mr McNulty has said he did not break any parliamentary rules.

In his letter to the committee's chairman, Sir Christopher Kelly, Mr Brown calls for a wide-ranging review which would also look at MPs' outside interests and second jobs.

Sir Christopher Kelly: "We'll be looking at all aspects of their expenses"

The committee is already due to carry out an inquiry into the system of expenses and allowances.

This is likely to begin in the autumn, after the committee ruled out an inquiry in this parliamentary session.

But Mr Brown's letter calls for this to be widened out to look at the "whole picture", including MPs' outside interests, pay and expenses.

The workings of Parliament "must be transparent, accountable and of the highest standards", he adds.

Sir Christopher told the BBC: "When you have a system whereby individual MPs can claim that the things they're doing are completely within the rules - and may well be within the rules.

"But where the public find that rule to be completely unintelligible from the point of view of normal standards... that suggests that something is basically wrong with the system."

Conservative Party chairman Eric Pickles said: "This is a typical trick from Gordon Brown.

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

"His last-minute conversion to an inquiry into MPs' expenses has more to do with diverting attention from embarrassment about the expense claims of yet another of his ministers than any desire for real change.

"This is a case of too little too late from a prime minister who failed to ask the right questions about the activities of his own employment minister."

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

He moved into his main home in Hammersmith in 2002 when he got married but continued to claim expenses on his Harrow house.


Tory MP Greg Hands has lodged an official complaint about Mr McNulty's second home expenses claims.

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

Mr McNulty himself said the regulations should be looked into.

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

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.

Mr McNulty 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.

His spokesman has said the MP is "completely compliant with all the regulations around the allowances for second homes".

A new system of expenses is due to come into force on 1 April.

Liberal Democrat 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."

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.

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