Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Tuesday, 19 May 2009 01:26 UK

Party whips face expenses focus

Nick Brown
Nick Brown says he is working "flat out" for his constituents

The focus in the row over MPs' expenses has shifted to claims made by the Labour and Conservative chief whips.

The Daily Telegraph has published details on expenses claimed by Labour's Nick Brown and the shadow chief whip, Patrick McLoughlin.

It says Mr Brown made claims totalling £87,708 over four years, including £18,800 for food, and Mr McLoughlin claimed £3,000 for new windows.

Both politicians say that they have done nothing wrong.

Mr Brown, MP for Newcastle East and Wallsend, has been at the centre of his party's efforts to contain the scandal, moving to suspend two Labour MPs accused of making claims for mortgage payments on "phantom loans".

The Telegraph says that Mr Brown's claims, which he made public himself a few days ago, totalled £87,708 between 2004 and 2008.

This included £18,800 for food, with regular claims of £400 per month during the recess. Until recently, MPs were able to claim up to £400 a month for food without providing receipts.

The claims represented a contribution to the cost of my Newcastle home. It doesn't represent the full cost that I bear myself
Nick Brown MP

In 2004/5 and 2005/6, the paper says, Mr Brown submitted claims for £200 every month for "repairs" and £200 every month for "service and maintenance" as well as £250 per month for cleaning, without submitting any receipts.

On claims during recess Mr Brown said: "I spend the recess in my second home, against which I claim, working in my constituency and, for the last two years, carrying out my responsibilities as Minister for the Region."

'Bullish defence'

BBC political correspondent Reeta Chakrabarti said Mr Brown had sought to pre-empt disclosure of his own expenses by publishing redacted information several days ago and was mounting a bullish defence of his behaviour.

Mr Brown told his local newspaper, the Newcastle Journal, that he claimed the "full amount" for subsistence costs but this had to be seen in the context of his responsibilities as chief whip and minister for the North East.

Patrick McLoughlin
Patrick McLoughlin is reported to have claimed 3,000 for windows

"I am working flat out for the people I represent," he told the paper, pointing out that he spent Monday to Thursday in London and Friday and Saturday in the North East on ministerial and constituency business, before returning to London on Sunday.

"The claims represented a contribution to the cost of my Newcastle home. It doesn't represent the full cost that I bear myself. When the system moved from un-receipted to receipted expenditure, I submitted receipts for everything I claimed."

The Telegraph also says Mr McLoughlin, MP for Derbyshire West, claimed £3,000 for new windows and thousands for regular decoration of his Derbyshire home.

He told the BBC he met most of the cost for the windows.

Other claims made by the Telegraph include:

• Steve McCabe, Labour whip, who the paper says over-claimed £4,059 on a mortgage. He told the BBC he disputes the sum. He "did make an error", as he told the Telegraph. But once the Fees Office notified him of this two to three years ago, he sorted it out by offsetting against subsequent claims, he said.

• Helen Goodman, another Labour whip, claimed for a week's stay in a holiday cottage over a bank holiday. She told the BBC she has a large, rural constituency and that before she had a house there she stayed in hotels or rented. During the summer 2005 recess, she wanted to work in the constituency for 10 days and it was cheaper to rent a cottage with her family than staying in a hotel. She worked every day of her stay and has the documentation to prove it, she added.

'Valid move'

The paper's decision to publish details of MPs' expenses claims has prompted calls for wholesale political reform.

Gordon Brown told Labour MPs on Monday that it was "imperative" that action was taken now to reform the expenses system, which has led to the suspension of two Labour MPs and caused embarrassment to all parties.

Speaker Michael Martin is meeting the leaders of all three major parties on Tuesday to discuss the crisis and has said no more second home claims will be accepted for the time being.

Reports on Monday also suggested John Austin, Labour MP for Erith and Thamesmead, had claimed a total of £133,000 in second home allowances since 2001, despite the fact the two London flats he lived in over the period were just over 10 miles away from his main residence in Kent.

John Austin
Mr Austin is the latest MP to come under scrutiny

Mr Austin said his claims had been reasonable and within the rules.

The paper said he sold a flat in south London for £140,000 in 2006, having bought it for £110,000 three years earlier.

After purchasing a new property for £225,000, the paper said Mr Austin spent more than £10,000 on a new bathroom, kitchen and carpets.

"The [house] move was for a valid reason and I do not think it inappropriate for costs associated with the move to be claimed from the allowance," he said.

The Commons authorities told him it was reasonable to leave behind items such as fridges and washing machines when he moved, necessitating fresh purchases.

"These items were approved in advance by the Fees Office and very modest purchases were made, at considerably less cost than the guidelines," he added.

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