Page last updated at 16:56 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 17:56 UK

MP expenses probe to be televised

TV camera
Cameras will be allowed into hearings in June and July

The inquiry into reforming the system of MPs' pay and expenses is to be televised, the BBC has learned.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life will let the cameras in when it takes evidence in June and July.

Chairman Sir Christopher Kelly intends to complete his review before the end of the year.

It has emerged Geoff Hoon and Alistair Darling claimed for second homes and rented out their London apartments while living in taxpayer-funded flats.

Both the chancellor and the transport secretary say their claims were within the rules and openly declared.


Despite living rent-free at 11 Downing Street, Mr Darling claims thousands in second-home payments on his Edinburgh constituency home while also renting out his London flat - designated as his main home.

His spokeswoman said he was taxed on the benefit of living in Downing Street and paid council tax there.

"Alistair Darling moved as chancellor into Downing St in 2007 - No 11 Downing Street became his main home - so his Edinburgh home was re-designated as his second home.

"His own London home was rented out to cover costs and this was openly declared in the register of members' interests," she said.

She said he did not claim the maximum allowance for his second home in Edinburgh. Last year he claimed £9,837 of the total £23,083 allowed.

It is clearly barmy for ministers to indulge in a form of double counting that enables them to enjoy two homes at the taxpayer's expense
Nick Clegg
Lib Dems

Mr Hoon has said he broke no rules by claiming second home allowances while living in a taxpayer-funded apartment, when he was defence secretary, and renting out his London flat.

A Downing Street spokesman said the government would wait until the committee had completed its review before bringing forward proposals for change.

He also defended the prime minister's decision to claim the second homes allowance, despite having the official flat in Downing Street.

"The approach he takes is in line with the approach taken by his predecessors," the spokesman said.

The controversial second homes allowance is meant to cover the costs of MPs staying away from home on parliamentary business and can be used towards mortgage interest and rent payments, hotel bills, as well as furniture, utility bills and upkeep costs - among other things.

MPs must designate a property as their main home - usually their property in London - then claim expenses on their "second" home, which is usually the constituency property.

Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has contested newspaper claims that she billed taxpayers £40 for a barbecue in her second home.


She has already apologised for "mistakenly" claiming £10 for adult films her husband watched, and is being investigated after claiming at least £116,000 for her constituency house in Worcestershire.

She had designated her sister's London home, where she rents a room, as her "main" home in her claims.

Meanwhile, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, John Lyon, confirmed he was investigating another Labour MP over an allowance claimed for a second home in London.

He has begun an inquiry into Leyton and Wanstead MP Harry Cohen who claims costs for his east London home because he lists a house 70 miles away in Colchester, Essex as his main residence.

Mr Lyon is also investigating a complaint about Labour minister Tony McNulty, who claimed thousands of pounds in allowances for the house his parents lived in, in his Harrow East constituency.

The growing number of revelations has led to fresh calls for MPs' expenses rules to be tightened.

The Committee on Standards in Public Life has already brought forward a wider inquiry into MPs' expenses, with a report due towards the end of the year.

Shadow business secretary Ken Clarke said the stream of stories about MPs' expenses had been "dreadful" for public confidence.

"People should be sceptical about their politicians - don't regard them as heroes - but now we have an exaggerated public view that they are all thieves, they are all rogues, they are all lining their own pockets."

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, who will publish his own reform proposals this week, said: "It is clearly barmy for ministers to indulge in a form of double counting that enables them to enjoy two homes at the taxpayer's expense."

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