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Page last updated at 07:53 GMT, Saturday, 29 May 2010 08:53 UK

Laws expenses story 'a massive distraction'

The controversy surrounding the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Laws, is a "massive distraction, motivated possibly by politics, to try to tear David down". So says Mr Laws' parliamentary colleague, the Liberal Democrat MP for Taunton Deane, Jeremy Browne.

Mr Browne, a junior Foreign Office minister, told Today presenter John Humphrys "this is a human story, not a financial story". He said that Mr Laws was "a deeply private man" who had claimed much less than he was entitled to.

Mr Laws, has admitted claiming £40,000 in MPs' expenses to rent rooms owned by his long-term partner. MPs are barred from claiming for rent paid to a partner, but Mr Laws said he had wanted to keep his relationship private.

He has promised to pay back the money immediately and he has referred himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

Labour MP Alan Whitehead, a member of the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee in the last parliament, said that Mr Laws' position would be "very difficult" if he was found to have committed "serious breaches" of the rules.

"The question, I think, behind it is the judgement call that he made - and indeed a lot of MPs made judgement calls about the previous rules, some of them disastrously bad - and that, I guess, will be the centrepiece of what the Commissioner for Standards looks at," Mr Whitehead told the programme.

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