UK Opposition Lawmakers To Repay Expenses

By: Nancy Zuckerbrod, Associated Press Email
By: Nancy Zuckerbrod, Associated Press Email

LONDON (AP) - Britain's primary opposition leader banned members of his party Tuesday from filing expense claims for food and household items amid public outrage after lawmakers sought reimbursements for items such as swimming pool construction and tennis court upkeep.

Conservative David Cameron said his party's lawmakers would reimburse the taxpayers for expenses deemed inappropriate, such as chandeliers, sleigh beds and manure. The Conservative Party leader said that the public could not abide by the expenditures, even though they were technically allowed under the complicated system for claiming household costs.

"Politicians have done things that are unethical and wrong," Cameron said during a news conference. "I am completely appalled."

Details of lawmakers' expenses has been published over the past days in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper, creating a steady drip of embarrassing revelations about how lawmakers cash in on the taxpayer.

The ruling Labour Party's membership has also been taken to task for claiming cat food, eyeliner and cookies on their expense forms and details of the expenses claimed by members of Britain's smallest major party, the Liberal Democrats, are due to be published Wednesday.

Though the expense forms were due to be revealed in July, the Telegraph secured a copy of the details, riveting the country for days and putting the country's politicians on the defensive.

Cabinet minister Hazel Blears, criticized for making tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) - tax free - by selling a home she was using public money to keep up, appeared before the cameras holding up a check and promising reimburse the taxpayer for money critics say she made dishonestly. All the while, she insisted she had done nothing wrong.

"I'd never knowingly do anything to let down the people I serve, and I've been affected personally by what people have been telling me in the past couple of days," she said. "I see people are really, really angry about this so I have decided to send this check."

Tuesday's report included claims for swimming pool upkeep, home furnishings, housekeeper costs - and a bill for clearing a moat at a manor. The lawmaker alleged to have expensed the moat clearing, David Hogg, denied the allegation.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has pledged to reform the expenses system, but Cameron appears set to discipline lawmakers who've made excessive claims - saying if they didn't abide by the new rules they would not be welcome in the party.

"From now on I want them to claim what is reasonable to do their job, not the maximum they can get away with," Cameron said. He also said Conservatives would be required to publish expense claims on the Internet. Brown echoed his opponent late Tuesday, saying that "extreme" action was needed to restore public trust in politicians.

He said he was pushing for an independent review of every claim made over the past four years.

"What we have got to do is restore public trust, to restore people's faith that politicians are worthy of their trust," Brown said.

A poll published Tuesday suggested that trust was fraying, with support for Labour and Conservatives falling in favor of the Liberal Democrats and other parties.

Pollster Populus interviewed 1,504 adults between May 8 and 10. The pollster did not give a margin of error, but surveys of that size usually have a margin of error of about plus or minus 3 percent.

British lawmakers had long refused to offer itemized receipts for their claims on public money, until a recent ruling ordered them to make the details known. About 2 million receipts for claims by British legislators will be published in July under the ruling, but the Daily Telegraph said last week it had obtained the material ahead of its planned release.

While parliamentary guidelines don't ban any specific items under lawmaker expenses - the rules say expenses should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn't damage the Parliament's reputation.

Critics complain the rules are being stretched and that the expenses aren't independently audited.

Scotland Yard was has been asked to investigate whether any of the alleged misuse of expenses crosses amount to criminal wrongdoing. The force says it is considering the requests but that no investigation is under way.
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Associated Press Writers David Stringer and Raphael G. Satter in London contributed to this report.


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