Page last updated at 14:35 GMT, Monday, 11 May 2009 15:35 UK

Brown apology over MPs' expenses

Gordon Brown: ''I want to apologise on behalf of politicians and all parties''

Gordon Brown has said "mistakes" were made by MPs in their use of House of Commons expenses.

The prime minister apologised on behalf of all political parties for some of the claims made and said public trust must be restored "immediately".

This follows revelations that leading MPs have entered invoices for items including dog food and a lawnmower.

Commons Speaker Michael Martin said "serious change" was needed and that the "spirit" of rules must be followed.

An independent body auditing expenses claims would be set up "very soon", he added.

'Wrongs righted'

The Daily Telegraph has been running leaks involving the expenses of senior Conservatives, after focusing on Labour figures over the weekend.

Speaking at the Royal College of Nursing conference in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, Mr Brown said: "Just as you have the highest standards in your profession, we must show that we have the highest standards for our profession.

"And we must show that, where mistakes have been made and errors have been discovered, where wrongs have to be righted, that that is done so immediately.

We have to acknowledge just how bad this is
David Cameron, Conservatives

"We have also to try hard to show people and think hard about how a profession that, like yours, depends on trust - the most precious asset it has is trust - how that profession too can show that it is genuinely there to serve the public in all its future needs."

He also said: "I want to apologise on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties, for what has happened in the events of the last few days."

Among the latest Telegraph revelations is a report that shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan recouped £4,000 for gardening costs - including overhauling a ride-on lawnmower.

When asked about his expenses, Mr Duncan said: "Everything I have claimed has been legitimate and approved by the fees office."

The Telegraph says shadow universities secretary David Willetts' claimed more than £100 for workmen to replace 25 light bulbs at his home.

But Mr Willetts denied doing anything wrong, saying: "We had problems with our lighting system which had caused many lights to fuse and needed the attention of an electrician."

Over the weekend, the newspaper revealed that tourism minister Barbara Follett had claimed more than £25,000 for security at her home.

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Immigration minister Phil Woolas has threatened legal action over "disgusting" allegations that he claimed for women's clothing, nappies and comics.

Plans for an independent auditing body to oversee expenses claims are expected to be approved on Monday, following weeks of damaging stories.

Senior Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said this would analyse "every claim that is made".

Nick Robinson image
The House of Commons has run itself as if MPs can and should be assumed to be honourable and, by implication, better than those they govern
Nick Robinson
BBC political editor

The Commons fees office is overseen by a committee made up of MPs and independent people - who in turn are overseen by the National Audit Office.

The new body would be entirely independent and cost about £600,000 a year to run.

Millions of receipts backing up all MPs' expenses claims under the second homes allowance are due to be published in July after a long freedom of information campaign.

But details have been leaked to the Telegraph - which has been publishing selected excerpts over the last few days.

There are concerns that the proposed change to the auditing system would mean MPs' expenses would no longer have to be made public under the freedom of information ruling.

FROM THE WORLD AT ONE

Mr Brown's official spokesman said: "The prime minister believes we need tighter auditing, but this must not be at the expense of transparency."

Tory leader David Cameron urged MPs to say "sorry" for the expenses system.

Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg said: "People are right to be furious but this cannot be a hollow apology. That would make the public even more angry, and understandably so."

Sir Christopher Kelly, whose Committee on Standards in Public Life is carrying out a review of MPs' allowances, said the claims details were "clearly a cause of concern".

They were casting "doubt on the validity of the rules" in place, he added.

A ROUND-UP OF OPINION ON THE EXPENSES ROW

Columnists, commentators and bloggers express their opinions on the MPs' expenses row and analyse what is next for public trust in politicians.

The political bloggers are quick off the mark in analysing Gordon Brown's apology.

Mike Smithson from the blog Political Betting wonders how carefully Gordon Brown chose his words in his apology:

..the word-smiths will notice that his apology relates to "..what has happened in the last few days." Perhaps it should also have included something on the way MPs appear to have used a system which look to the outside world as though they are feathering their own nests.

Political blogger Guido Fawkes is annoyed by Gordon Brown's use of the word profession in his speech:

Politics is not a profession Gordon, it is a racket, and this has been going on for decades not days. Guido won't believe they are sorry until they pay back the money they have embezzled.

Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, Norman Baker criticises other MPs in the Independent and the Telegraph :

The standard defence trotted out is that everything done has been within the rules. But that does not make it ethically correct, not least because those rules have been written by MPs themselves... The test will be this: can we walk into our local pub or supermarket and feel comfortable defending what we claim. Until the public think the answer is yes, this corrosive matter will not go away, and nor should it.

In the Daily Mail, Melanie Phillips says it is possible to do something wrong, whilst still remaining within the rules:

Like sheep, they all went along with these scams, so that's supposed to make them all right. 'It wasn't my fault, m'lud, that I claimed for a barbecue - it was the system.' Sounds awfully like 'I was only obeying orders' in another era.

The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh argues that the defence of sticking within the rules is incorrect:

Ministers and MPs who fiddled their expenses so outrageously were not "acting within the rules", as they insist. They have broken the law of the land, the rule of the taxman and the moral code they exhort us all to live by - fairness.

The Daily Express' Leo McKinstry calls for a general election as a solution to what he sees as corruption that can't be fixed:

After the exposure of endemic corruption at Westminster, stretching all the way to the heart of the Cabinet, our present bunch of self-serving politicians has lost any right to pass more laws or collect more taxes.

About the only commentator to stand up for MPs is Bruce Anderson. In the Independent's blog, Bruce Anderson asks the public to calm down about MPs expenses as he believes they are not an indication of a rotten government:

The present mess was created by accident and thoughtlessness plus an admixture of greed. But we have not returned to 18th-century levels of peculation.

Finally, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Sir Alistair Graham sets out his agenda for reform in the Mirror :

Stop any payments under the second homes allowance until Sir Christopher [the current chairmain of the Committee on Standards in Public Life] has reported.
Do not allow any votes by the House of Commons on Sir Christopher's recommendations. They must accept the whole package.
Pass legislation so changes to any future system to be determined by either the Committee onStandards or the Senior Salaries Review Body, which determines the pay of MPs.



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