Page last updated at 11:43 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 12:43 UK

Ministers 'in tax advice claims'

Alistair Darling
Chancellor Alistair Darling is among those ministers named by the paper

Alistair Darling is among nine cabinet members who used £11,000 of taxpayers' money to pay for personal accountancy advice, the Daily Telegraph has said.

It says he, Jacqui Smith, Hazel Blears, David Miliband, James Purnell, Douglas Alexander, Geoff Hoon and Hilary Benn claimed for tax return processing.

Labour sources said such advice claims were within Commons rules.

The BBC's Iain Watson said Mr Darling claimed he was seeking advice on making sure he paid the right amount of tax.

Mr Darling was keen to say he was doing the right thing in seeking the advice, rather than taking advantage of taxpayers' money, our correspondent added.

The ninth minister alleged to have made such claims was unnamed.

The newspaper said it had been unable to reach him for a comment.

Many of us have spent years trying to change the system but we've been blocked many times

Vince Cable
Lib Dem economics spokesman

This is the 18th day of allegations about MPs' expenses detailed in the Daily Telegraph. The paper says it is now focusing on office expense claims, after its revelations about MPs' second home allowances shook Westminster.

In its other allegations, the paper says Schools Secretary Ed Balls claimed for a Remembrance Day poppy wreath.

Mr Balls responded by insisting that it was a mistake by a member of his staff, and publishing the correspondence between himself and the Telegraph on his website.

Of the total £11,000 for all nine ministers, Mr Darling's accountancy bills came to £1,400 over two years.

The chancellor said he had paid an accountant to prepare tax returns "to ensure... the correct amount of tax was paid in respect of my office costs".

Position 'untenable'

A spokesman for Ms Blears said she had been advised to obtain accountancy advice when she became an MP because she would have to deal with both personal taxation and office accounts.

"She has used this firm ever since and claims for their fees in accordance with paragraph of the Green Book on page 29," the spokesman said.

Responding to Sunday night's Telegraph claims, the Labour source told the BBC: "The fees office Green Book - which sets out the rules and advice on behalf of the parliamentary authorities - states specifically that professional advice, for example from accountants or solicitors, is an allowable expense.

"In order that MPs comply fully with all the relevant requirements relating to tax, and to ensure they are properly meeting all their tax liabilities, many rightly seek professional assistance and advice where this relates specifically to their role as members of Parliament."

The newspaper also claims several ministers claimed for gadgets such as digital cameras and camcorders.

Labour deputy leader, Harriet Harman was said to have used more than £10,000 of public funds to pay for advice from media consultant Scarlett McGwire.

Harriet Harman
Harriet Harman sought advice from a media consultant

A spokesman for Ms Harman said the money was used "in respect of advising on and drafting speeches".

This also included the "drafting [of] questionnaires to her constituents, editing of her annual report to her constituents on issues such as housing, the NHS and policing... and editing of other reports for her constituency and parliamentary work."

Matthew Elliot, from the Taxpayers' Alliance, said the latest revelations made the chancellor's position "completely untenable".

"What you'll get is thousands of businesses around the country saying why can't we claim similar accountancy advice and expenses and you can't have these double standards," he added.

'Out of control'

On Sunday, Mr Darling had told BBC One's The Politics Show that all MPs had an obligation to shoulder responsibility for not reforming the expenses system when earlier opportunities arose.

"There is no doubt that the House of Commons rules got out of control and, frankly, everyone of us, me included, have to take responsibility for that, he said.

"Every time these things came up for review we just looked the other way."

But Liberal Democrat economics spokesman Vince Cable attacked Mr Darling for trying to dodge personal responsibility for his expenses claims.

Mr Cable said the chancellor should not "try and tar all MPs with the same brush".

"I have never previously attacked Alistair Darling personally, whatever our political disagreements, but I was incensed when I heard his cynical attempt to displace responsibility for his own behaviour on other MPs," he added.

"Many of us have spent years trying to change the system but we've been blocked many times, not least by the Labour government.

"Alistair Darling must be prepared to take some personal responsibility."

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