Monday 11 May 2009 | MPs' expenses feed | All feeds

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MPs' expenses: Four ministers who milked the system

Four of Gordon Brown's ministers are exposed for milking the parliamentary MPs' expenses system and pushing their claims to the limit.

 
Ben Bradshaw, Phil Hope, Barbara Follett and Phil Woolas - MPs' expenses: Four ministers who milked the system
Ben Bradshaw, Phil Hope, Barbara Follett and Phil Woolas Photo: PAUL GROVER / PA / BRIAN SMITH

The Daily Telegraph's files show that Barbara Follett, the Tourism Minister; Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister; Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister; and Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, have exploited the MPs' expenses system.

The questionable expense claims of two former ministers, Keith Vaz and Barry Gardiner, are also disclosed. They come after this newspaper published suspect claims made by 13 members of the Cabinet.

The details of their claims has resulted in an outpouring of public anger over the MPs' expenses system with calls for immediate reform.

The Cabinet ministers involved, including Jack Straw and Lord Mandelson, have refused to apologise but instead criticised the parliamentary expenses system.

The latest disclosures show that the expenses scandal goes beyond the Cabinet and implicates the entire Government.

The Daily Telegraph has been shown details of expense claims made by MPs from all the main political parties and is planning to publish a series of articles exposing how the system is being exploited by dozens of MPs.

Parliamentary rules stipulate that MPs must ensure that there are "no grounds for a suggestion of a misuse of public money". However, The Daily Telegraph files show some ministers have pushed the limits of the scheme. It can be disclosed that:

Barbara Follett, the multi-millionaire Tourism Minister, claimed for private security patrols outside her London home costing more than £25,000. The parliamentary fees office, which is supposed to monitor claims, warned Mrs Follett that her claims may appear "excessive" if made public, but she was not deterred, saying she felt unsafe in Soho after being mugged.

• Keith Vaz, the former minister who now chairs the Home Affairs select committee, bought and furnished a flat in central London at taxpayers' expense despite living just 12 miles away with his wife in a £1.15 million property. He claimed more than £75,000 for the flat.

Mr Vaz also changed his designated second home for a single year to a property he owns in his Leicester constituency. During this year – 2007-08 – he claimed £1,000 for a table and chairs, £750 on new carpets, and £2,614 for a pair of leather armchairs. He also claimed for 22 cushions, including 17 made from silk costing £15 each. During the course of the year he rented out his London flat.

• Margaret Moran, the Labour MP for Luton, spent £22,500 of taxpayers' money treating dry rot at her and her husband's seaside house 100 miles from her constituency – days after switching her "second home" there.

The parliamentary authorities were concerned that the work broke the "spirit" of the rules. However, the MP's claim was not blocked. Miss Moran's expenses appear to be among the most questionable of any MP.

Over four years she also spent thousands of pounds on three separate properties, switching between Westminster, Luton and Southampton and renovating each home in turn.

• Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, has spent more than £37,000 on refurbishing and furnishing a modest two-bedroom flat in south London.

• Ben Bradshaw, the Health Minister, switched the designation of his second home to a property he shares with his partner in west London. Although the couple initially split the mortgage costs, Mr Bradshaw now claims the entire interest bill on the property – despite owning only half the property.

• Phil Woolas, the Home Office Minister, claimed for items of women's clothing, tampons and nappies. The parliamentary rules only allow expenses which are "exclusively" for MPs' own use so it is not clear these items were justified.

• Greg Barker, the shadow climate change minister, made £320,000 after buying a flat with the help of taxpayers' money, and selling it after only 27 months. He is the first senior Tory to become embroiled in the expenses row, but details of other prominent Conservatives will be disclosed in coming days.

• Barry Gardiner, the former environment minister, made a profit of almost £200,000 after buying a Westminster flat and claiming thousands of pounds to renovate the property. Mr Gardiner's main home is only eight miles from Parliament.

Yesterday, a number of Cabinet ministers gave interviews seeking to defend their own claims, but also criticising the operation of the system. The Daily Telegraph is also publishing details today of letters written by MPs to the parliamentary authorities that attempt to justify expense claims that were questioned.

One former Labour minister said: "I object to your decision not to reimburse me for the costs of purchasing a baby's cot for use in my London home... perhaps you might write to me explaining where my son should sleep next time he visits me in London?"

A Tory MP attempting to claim £5,347 for a new kitchen wrote: "The work surfaces are no longer hygienic and the sink unit, which is an old brown plastic double bowl, is scratched and very ugly."

A backbench Labour MP wrote: "I appreciate you are under severe pressure... but, as I explained on the phone, I am away for two weeks and I don't want to leave my family destitute."

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