London MPs in stampede to offload their second homesJoe Murphy
London's MPs are frantically dumping second homes as their expenses bill of almost £10 million a year comes under the spotlight.
Commons officials have been deluged with requests from members who want to cut their claims in a bid to appease outraged voters before the next general election.
And dozens of MPs from outside the capital are taking advantage of a £7,500 allowance designed for inner London MPs. They are dropping the more generous £24,000 second home allowances, and choosing to take this simpler pay boost — called the London Costs Allowance — for which no receipts are required.
The total cost of the capital's 72 members can today be revealed as £14.4 million. This includes £4.6 million for basic pay of £64,766 each, plus £9,702,378 office costs and expenses.
On average, a London MP claims £131,113 in allowances and expenses. Most goes on staff salaries and office costs which MPs say benefit only constituents, not themselves.
However, it is the total of £433,000 spent on second homes by some London MPs that has led to a series of scandals and allegations that they have been cashing in at the public's expense.
For several years the Standard has highlighted the absurd situation in which millions commute to the capital from far-flung towns yet MPs whose constituencies are only a few miles away demand flats in the centre.
One of the most notorious claimers, Brent North MP Barry Gardiner, now admits payments should have been reformed years ago. He has claimed more than £130,000 in the last seven years to run a flat, even though his constituency is eight miles from the Commons.
“The system was designed for a different age,” he said. “The Commons no longer sits all night as it often did when I was first elected in 1997, and I understand why people feel angry that the reform of parliamentary hours has not gone hand in hand with a reform of parliamentary expenses.
“I believe all MPs need to apologise to the public that we did not sort this out sooner, and for my part I make that apology unreservedly.”
Mr Gardiner recently voted to ban all outer London MPs from claiming for a flat. He is reckoned to have made almost £200,000 profit on the flat he purchased and renovated with the help of the public purse — but he did pay capital gains tax when he sold it, unlike Cabinet minister Hazel Blears, which means the taxpayer got much of its money back.
He said: “I do not enjoy spending half the week not seeing my wife and children, but I accept this because I wish to serve my constituents conscientiously. I habitually work in my parliamentary office up to and beyond midnight.”
Only 24 London MPs take anything from the second home allowance, claiming an average of £18,000 each. The most frugal is Hornchurch Conservative James Brokenshire, who last year took only £368.
Uniquely, he has never claimed the London Supplement (being replaced by the London Costs Allowance) a salary boost of £2,812 available as an alternative for those who do not bother with a second home.
The former City solicitor said he was happy without one: “I'm not holier than thou. I just do what I think is right with the expenses that are available.”
The next cheapest is Hendon Labour MP Andrew Dismore, whose Westminster flat cost taxpayers £3,815 last year. He is among those who have stopped claiming for a second home in recent weeks. Under new rules, MPs from any area can receive the £7,500 London Costs Allowance, paid out like salary with no receipts needed and no questions asked.
Steve Pound, Labour MP for Ealing North, has claimed no second homes allowance since he became an MP in 1997. But his west London seat is surrounded by colleagues who have submitted controversial claims — Tony McNulty in Harrow East, Gareth Thomas in Harrow West, Dawn Butler in Brent South, Alan Keen in Feltham and Heston and Ann Keen in Brentford and Isleworth.
Conservative MP for Hornchurch
Claimed £368 in second home expenses and did not take any London supplement — the lowest by far.
Labour MP for Luton North
Travels with commuters on the Thameslink to London each morning, shunning a second home.
Sutton & Cheam MP, Liberal Democrat chief whip
Took the £2,812 London supplement instead of a second home, as did other London Lib-Dem MPs.
Labour MP for Brent South and Government whip
2007/8 claim: £23,083
She bought a “near derelict” home in Wembley, even though her main home was 15 miles away. She claimed £2,650 for a heating system. She also unwittingly claimed £2,600 too much for rent but offered to “dig out” receipts rather than pay it back.
Her defence: “All the claims are legitimate.”
Majority: 11,326 Vulnerability: Low
Tory MP for Epsom & Ewell and shadow home secretary
2007/8 claim: £15,332
He bought and renovated a flat in Pimlico using taxpayer funding even though his constituency home is 17 miles from the Commons.
His defence: He said a second home enabled him to service constituents and the shadow cabinet.
Majority: 16,447 Vulnerability: Very low
Labour MP for Harrow East, Employment Minister
2007/8 claim: £12,600
He designated his parents' house as his second home. It is in Harrow, eight miles from his main residence in Hammersmith and 11 miles from the Commons.
His defence: He insisted he made “considerable” use of it for his duties and no rules were broken.
Majority: 4,730 Vulnerability: High
Tory MP for Chipping Barnet and shadow transport secretary
2007/8 claim: £18,181
She claimed £16,000 for a Kennington flat, despite owning a house in London, including £10,350 for stamp duty. She also claimed £1,062 interest on a £285,000 mortgage.
Her defence: “All the claims are within the rules.”
Majority: 5,960 Vulnerability: Low
Labour MPs for Feltham & Heston and Brentford & Isleworth
2007/8 claim: Alan £19,855; Ann £18,338
They claimed almost £40,000 on a flat overlooking the Thames, 10 miles from their family house.
Their defence: Married MPs can claim for a property they share.
Majority: Alan: 6,820; Ann: 4,411
Labour MP for Enfield North
2007/8 claim: £21,658
She spent £4,500 on repairs to her “main home”, 14 miles from the Commons. She then made a south London flat her main home, claiming £900 on gutters and French doors and £1,888 to redecorate.
Her defence: Rules obliged her to have the London main home while serving as a Home Office minister.
Majority: 1,920 Vulnerability: Very high