Page last updated at 16:43 GMT, Thursday, 10 December 2009

Minister denies claiming 20,700 bell tower repairs

Quentin Davies MP: "The situation is completely transparent"

Defence minister Quentin Davies has denied trying to claim on expenses the £20,700 cost of rebuilding a bell tower at his constituency home.

Mr Davies, who defected from the Tories to Labour in 2007, was paid £5,376 by the Commons fees office.

He said confusion had arisen because the bell tower was on the same invoice as roof repairs he was claiming for.

It comes as the Commons releases fresh expenses details including claims for a hamburger maker and garlic peelers.

In a statement, Mr Davies denied he had ever intended to claim for the bell tower, but added: "The bell tower is an integral part of the roof. If it had collapsed, as it would have done if it had not been repaired, it would have smashed through the roof.

NOTABLE CLAIMS BY MPS
James Arbuthnot: £43 for three garlic peelers bought from the QVC shopping channel
Liam Byrne: Claim for £50 "air bed" was turned down
Sir Patrick Cormack: £8 for a mothtrap
Alistair Darling: £48 for redecorating front door to remove graffiti
Phil Hope: £2 for a hamburger machine
Andrew Selous: 55p for a mug of Horlicks

"I did not claim however in respect of it and I never had any intention of doing so.

"Moreover, I never intended my claim to be for more than a portion (around 50%) of the roof repairs alone.

"This seemed to me - and seems to me - reasonable."

In a letter when he submitted the invoice to to the fees office, dated 2 February this year, Mr Davies explains that he has submitted an "an exceptional and very high (though very essential) repair bill which takes my claim to more than the annual limit".

The Grantham and Stamford MP asked the fees office to calculate the portion of the bill that fits within his allowance limit, with no mention that the bell tower work was not being claimed for.

Invoice for bell tower work
Invoice submitted to the Fees Office

Three months later, at the height of the MP expenses scandal prompted by the Daily Telegraph revelations, Mr Davies wrote again to the fees office.

He noted that he had been paid only a "portion" of the cost of repairs to his roof - £5,380 - and stressed that he had never intended to claim for the bell tower part of the work.

Mr Davies says the roof repairs and the bell tower work appeared on the same invoice and said: "With hindsight, to avoid confusion, I should have asked for separate invoices."

Brown 'confidence'

Downing Street said Prime Minister Gordon Brown had "full confidence" in Mr Davies.

A spokeswoman said it was a decision for the defence minister whether any money was repaid.

"The prime minister has in the past and would continue to encourage all MPs to repay any expenses which were excessive or indeed contravened the guidelines set out," she added.

The bell tower invoice is one of the more eye catching of the claims revealed by the publication of hundreds of thousands of receipts by the House of Commons.

Others included Labour MP Phil Hope, who claimed a £2 "hamburger maker" amongst kitchen items, while Tory MP James Arbuthnot claimed £43.56 for three "four piece garlic peelers" from shopping channel QVC.

The hundreds of thousands of receipts cover April 2008 to July 2009.

The claims made under the controversial second homes allowance have been published by the House of Commons but have not been as heavily blacked out as the previous years' receipts published in June.

EXPENSES CLAIMS
Bar chart showing how much MPs have claimed over past three years
Total claimed for costs of living away from home: £10,706,562
Maximum claim for costs of living away from home: £24,006
Maximum claimed by 59 MPs
Half of eligible MPs claimed more than £20,000
Overall 76% of the maximum total was claimed

The receipts show ex-home secretary Jacqui Smith claimed a £555 TV, while moat claim MP Douglas Hogg claimed for a £20 toaster and £2.99 rubbish bags.

Mr Hogg, along with Labour MP Keith Vaz, is also among the list of MPs who changed the designation of their second home for allowance purposes.

Simply changing second home designation breaks no rules, and the MPs have not yet had a chance to comment.

Sir Peter Viggers, whose duck house claim was one of the most notable revelations of the earlier expenses publications, claimed £115 to pay a firm who are "specialists in bird proofing/cleaning".

Sir Peter, who is stepping down at the election, had a claim for £10,526 knocked down to £299.16 with the explanation "spoken to Sir Peter, not appropriate to claim interest on increased borrowing taken to free equity of house. Agreed to reimburse interest equivalent to borrowing".

He also claimed £699.75 for manufacture and supply of box shutters for a window.

Sir Peter told the BBC: "I have always consulted the fees office and taken their advice."

Bell tower
The bell tower was an "integral part of the roof" claimed the MP.

Other receipts include a number of council tax reminders - including to Foreign Secretary David Miliband for £64.44.

Commons Speaker John Bercow claimed £22,465.49 in second home allowances in 2008-9 for mortgage interest, council tax, gas, electricity and cleaning.

There is just one claim from him for the first quarter of 2009-10 which is £500 for utilities.

Mr Bercow said he would no longer claim the allowance once he was elected Speaker - a job which comes with a grand apartment in Parliament - in June.

Other details revealed include Prime Minister Gordon Brown claiming £500 for the repainting of a "summer house" in his garden. Downing Street said the PM has already repaid the money.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown: "Nobody asked me to pay. I did it myself"

Conservative leader David Cameron claimed £20,240.15 in 2008/09 and £3,066.91 for the period covered in 2009/10.

There is also a note from a gardener to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg.

"My plan of attack this year will start with weeding the front garden and big bush which is overgrown. I will have to poison the big holly or it just keeps coming," the note says.

Mr Clegg claimed £760 for the repair of a garden path but has said he would pay back any profit he makes on his constituency home when he sells it.

Poole MP Robert Syms had £359 for a bunk bed rejected with the explanation "living costs for any one other than yourself are not permitted".

Second home rules

The period covered by the latest receipts came at a time when MPs knew that at least some details of their expenses claims were to be published under Freedom of Information rules.

But the vast majority of them predate the uproar over expenses prompted by the leaked details of claims since 2004 published by the Daily Telegraph in May.


WHERE TO FIND THE DOCUMENTS
The documents are published on Parliament's website
Each MP's expenses dating back to 2004 are gathered together by name
The new documents are headed "Personal Additional Accommodation Expenditure 2009-2010" and "Additional Cost Allowance 2008-09"
Second home designations have also been published
Find out how much your MP claimed in total -

Those revelations led to a host of MPs announcing they would stand down and a revamp of the entire expenses system being drawn up by Sir Christopher Kelly.

There was also an audit of all claims since 2004 carried out by Sir Thomas Legg, which is in the process of deciding how much MPs should pay back from the money claimed.

Hundreds of MPs, including the three main UK party leaders, have already agreed to repay sums totalling thousands of pounds from the claims since 2004.

MPs from outside of central London were entitled to claim up to £24,006 in 2008/9 for the cost of having a second home - for things like mortgages interest payments and utility bills, but also for things like a second set of cutlery or televisions and furniture.

A second home was deemed necessary because MPs have to attend Parliament at Westminster but also live in, or have a base in, their constituency.

All MPs had to sign a declaration with every claim to the effect that "I confirm that I incurred these costs wholly, exclusively and necessarily to enable me to stay overnight away from my only or main home for the purpose of performing my duties as a Member of Parliament".


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FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Guardian.co.uk Quentin Davies the star in game of Spot the Chisellers | Marina Hyde - 1 hr ago
Mirror.co.uk More expenses embarrassment for MPs - 2 hrs ago
Reuters UK Garlic peeler, bell tower revive MPs' expenses row - 5 hrs ago
Financial Times'Dog minding' among latest MPs' expense claims - 5 hrs ago
The Sun Outrage at MPs' expense claims - 7 hrs ago
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