Page last updated at 08:00 GMT, Sunday, 17 May 2009 09:00 UK

Expenses secrecy bid MPs accused

David Maclean
David Maclean has rejected claims that he benefited from expenses

MPs who backed a bill that would have blocked public release of parliamentary expense claims are among the latest accused of benefiting from the system.

Tory MP David Maclean, who led the secrecy bid, rejected Sunday Telegraph claims he used public money to renovate a house and avoid capital gains tax.

Labour MPs David Clelland and Fraser Kemp and Tories Julian Lewis and David Ruffley are also accused of benefiting.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed to stamp out "unacceptable behaviour".

Writing in the News of the World, Mr Brown said he "does not rule out any sanction", as he pledged to restore trust after the expenses revelations.

The latest in a string of allegations published by the Telegraph Media Group focuses on MPs who backed an unsuccessful bill, introduced by Mr Maclean, to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.

I was forced to obey a rule which I thought illogical
David Maclean
Conservative MP

The newspaper claims that after using £20,000 of taxpayer's money to renovate a property before selling it, Mr Maclean, who represents Penrith and The Border, avoided paying capital gains tax on the sale by telling the taxman it was his main home.

But in a statement issued to the BBC, the MP said he utterly refuted the allegation. He said that when he became opposition chief whip he was told it was compulsory to make London his main home.

"I have never 'flipped' my property or sought to refurbish it at taxpayer's expense," he said.

Meanwhile, Tyne Bridge MP David Clelland reportedly "bought out" his partner's share of a joint mortgage on a flat in London at a cost of thousands of pounds to the taxpayer in higher claims for interest payments as well as legal fees.

'Nothing illegal'

The Telegraph says that after the deal, approved by the Commons fees office, mortgage interest payments - funded by expenses - increased by almost £200 a month.

However, the Labour backbench MP has said there was "nothing illegal or improper" in the claims he had made.

Referring to the London property, he said: "I don't regard it as a home - [it] is what I have to have to do my work as a member of parliament. And that's why the costs fall on the taxpayer."

Other claims include:

  • Former Labour whip Fraser Kemp is said to have apologised for repeat claims for items for his second home. The MP for Houghton and Washington East is reported to have claimed for 16 bed sheets, two televisions and two DVD players for a one-bedroom flat. Mr Kemp told the Telegraph he would pay money back for his "error".
  • New Forest East MP Julian Lewis, who reportedly claimed more than £7,000 from the taxpayer for redecorating his second home and installing new kitchen appliances, has denied any wrongdoing. The Conservative MP said the Westminster expenses system was "rotten" but insisted he had only used it to carry out essential maintenance and had not abused the system.
  • Reports suggested Tory shadow minister for police reform David Ruffley had "flipped" his second home from London to his Bury St Edmunds constituency before claiming back thousands for furniture and fittings, including a £1,674 sofa.

Mr Ruffley said he had saved the taxpayer cash by designating his London property as his main home, while renting an unfurnished constituency property.

He had asked the Fees Office what an appropriate reimbursement would be and as a result paid for two-thirds of the cost of a £2,175 Harrods TV and £6,765 in bedroom furniture himself.

Amid signs of rising public anger about some MP expense and allowance claims, the prime minister wrote he was under "no illusions that repayment will not necessarily be sufficient sanction".

Mr Brown's comments came after a week in which former Labour minister Elliot Morley and Labour MP David Chaytor were suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party after admitting claiming for a mortgages that had already been cleared.

David Chaytor - suspended from Parliamentary Labour Party after reports he claimed £13,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off
Elliot Morley - suspended from Parliamentary Labour Party after admitting claiming £16,000 for a mortgage he had already paid off
Shahid Malik - resigned as justice minister pending inquiry into his expenses
Andrew MacKay - quit as parliamentary aide to David Cameron over "unacceptable" expenses claim

Labour's Shahid Malik also stood down from ministerial post pending an inquiry into his expenses while Tory MP Andrew MacKay quit as parliamentary aide to David Cameron over an expenses claim.

The BBC's political correspondent Carole Walker said the prime minister had a number of disciplinary options at his disposal, including expelling individuals from the Labour Party or the government itself.

David Cameron has already stated that Conservative MPs must repay any "excessive" expenses claims or face expulsion from from the party.

The Metropolitan Police Service and Crown Prosecution Service are due to meet next week to discuss whether a criminal investigation should be launched into some of the Telegraph's allegations about MPs.

Opinion polls published in Sunday's newspapers appeared to indicate the extent to which the expenses row has damaged Labour in the run up to the Euro and local elections, due to be held on 4 June.

A BPIX poll of 2,300 people for the Mail on Sunday newspaper found just 17% of voters polled planned to vote Labour at the European elections next month - the same percentage which pledged to vote for the UK Independence Party.

Another poll by ComRes for the Independent on Sunday suggested Labour might get 21% of the projected vote, compared with 40% for the Tories, 18% for the Lib Dems and 21% for "other parties", such as Green and UKIP.

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