Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Monday, 1 June 2009 20:19 UK

Darling 'very sorry' over claim

Alistair Darling issues an unreserved apology

Chancellor Alistair Darling has apologised "unreservedly" over an expenses claim he made on a flat which he moved out of shortly afterwards.

He said he was "very sorry" and had always tried to make sure he did the "right thing" during his time as an MP.

He is to repay part of a £1,000 six-monthly service charge, on a flat he moved out of two months later.

Gordon Brown says it was an inadvertent mistake but the Lib Dems say Mr Darling should be sacked over other claims.

Meanwhile Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon has repaid £384 for bills claimed for a TV licence, house insurance and a gas service agreement at his second home in Derbyshire in 2006.

Northern Rock

The bills were paid in advance for a full year, but Mr Hoon changed his second home designation that year to a property in London, after moving out of his grace-and-favour Whitehall flat.

He said the overpayment had been an "inadvertent administrative error" adding, "I unreservedly apologise for the mistake".

Mr Darling is among several Cabinet ministers accused of repeatedly "flipping" their second home - changing which of his homes he claimed allowances on.

He told the BBC he had only sought to make sure that his claims accurately reflected where he was living.

His circumstances had changed when he moved to Downing Street, when he designated his grace and favour flat as his "second home".

I'm very sorry about it, I unreservedly apologise for it - it shouldn't have happened and that's why I've decided to repay that money
Alistair Darling

In October 2007, when the Northern Rock crisis was at its height, he said it was obvious to him he was spending most of his time in London and so he changed his second home to his Edinburgh property.

"If you look at how much I claimed in the last couple of years it is actually a lot less than it was in the past," he said.

On the service charge, he said he had been entitled to claim for it at the time, when he was living in the flat.

But he said it "ran ahead" six months - covering a period in which he had moved to Downing Street - and in hindsight, he did not want to be "gaining from something I shouldn't have".

"That's why I decided to repay that sum, I'm very sorry about it, I unreservedly apologise for it - it shouldn't have happened and that's why I've decided to repay that money."

Tax advice

Mr Darling also claimed on expenses for tax advice. He said any tax advice he received for personal tax had been paid for himself.

But he said MPs' office costs could be complicated as they were treated as MPs' own income for tax purposes and it was important to make sure his returns were completed accurately. He said he had paid tax on the value of the accountancy fees.

I think what matters is that the prime minister either backs him or sacks him
David Cameron
Conservative leader

As a cabinet minister, and especially as chancellor, he said he wanted to "make sure I pay the correct amount of tax".

Asked if he would be remaining as chancellor, amid speculation he might be moved in an expected reshuffle, Mr Darling said it was for the prime minister to decide who is in the cabinet.

But he said it was "upsetting" when his personal integrity was "impugned".

"I have tried to behave properly, to do the right thing, the proper thing, throughout my time as a member of Parliament and as a minister."

But he said he understood why people were "thoroughly hacked off" about the expenses row.

The Liberal Democrats say that claims by the chancellor, as guardian of the public finances, must be above reproach and have called for him to go.

Treasury spokesman Vince Cable told BBC Scotland that the chancellor must be seen to have "moral authority, not just operating within technical rules, by the financial community and the country at large".

Conservative leader David Cameron told the BBC he thought Mr Darling was in "serious difficulties".

"I think what matters is that the prime minister either backs him or sacks him. I think this just leaving him to hang out to dry is very bad but I think it just strengthens my argument for a general election.

"If you start saying 'Well, why not get rid of the chancellor?', well - why not James Purnell, why not Geoff Hoon? I think what we need is the cleansing process of a general election where we all have to go back to our constituencies, we all have to explain ourselves and we let the public be the judge and the jury."

But the prime minister backed Mr Darling earlier, saying he had made an "inadvertent" mistake on the service charge and was doing a "great job" as chancellor.

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