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Good gracious !|
They did it. What a SHOCKER !
British MPs claim expenses for X-rated movies, horse manure
Published Friday May 8th, 2009
Paisley Dodds, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON - It has all the makings of a Monty Python sketch - prim British legislators caught in a farce over expense claims for everything from X-rated movies to a bathtub plug.
But reality has come home to roost in Her Majesty's Government.
Friday's leaked list of legislators' expenses has levelled another blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown's beleaguered government, which has been blamed for a litany of problems ranging from the Iraq war to the deepening recession.
According to the details published by Britain's Daily Telegraph, Brown paid his brother Andrew more than 6,500 pounds (US$9,800) in two years for a maid the two shared when Brown was Britain's Treasury chief.
The newspaper declined to say how it had obtained expense claims from 13 ministers but promised to roll out more in the coming days.
Home Office Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed two X-rated movies her husband watched, which she later repaid. Housing minister and former Foreign Secretary claimed 600 pounds ($900) for hanging plant baskets. And former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claimed 300 pounds ($450) over two years to fix broken toilet seats.
The list could also prove damaging to the opposition Conservatives - one Tory MP claimed for fertilizer used on his country house garden, putting in as well for cans of cat food.
Other expenses, categorized only by political party, included toilet seats, horse manure, wine rack, rat poison, pool maintenance, piano tuning, a chocolate Santa and a pizza cutter.
"I know people will be angry and it looks very bad," Harriet Harman, a cabinet minister, told the BBC. "We recognize that ... public confidence is dented and we want to restore respect for the House of Commons."
Rules governing British MP expenses are laid out in the 66-page Green Book - a guide sent to every legislator. It sets limits on expense claims, such as a 25 pound ($38) cap on eating out when away from home and how much can be claimed toward a second home, usually a residence in London.
Legislators can claim annual expenses, including 24,000 pounds ($36,000) toward running and paying for their second home, up to 90,000 pounds ($135,500) on staff, 21,000 pounds ($31,600) on office costs and an unlimited amount on travel for parliamentary business.
Though the guidelines don't ban any specific items, the rules say expenses should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn't damage the Parliament's reputation.
"The rules are being stretched to the absolute limit in a way which is allowing MPs to enhance their personal income," said Alistair Graham, who was in charge of standards in Britain's Parliament until 2007.
Figures released to Parliament show that the 646 House of Commons members claimed 93 million pounds ($134 million) in allowances and expenses last year.
"I've said (the system) is wrong and it should be amended," said Brown. "We want to abolish the present system and replace it with something different and that's why I made the proposals I did a few days ago."
Members of the public complain the expenses system is too generous, isn't independently audited and follows rules drafted by the legislators themselves.
"There can be no greater proof of the need for urgent and wholesale reform of MPs' expenses than the fact that so many people at the top of government have been making such dubious claims," said Matthew Elliott of the lobby group the TaxPayers' Alliance.
Justice Secretary Jack Straw, who claimed housing taxes he'd never actually paid, explained his mistake in a handwritten note trying to correct the matter: "Accountancy does not appear to be my strongest suit."
British MPs, who are paid 61,000 pounds ($93,100) annually, had long refused to offer itemized receipts for their claims on public money, until a ruling under freedom of information laws ordered them to make the details known.
About two million receipts for claims by British legislators will be published in July under the ruling, but the newspaper said Friday it had obtained the material ahead of its planned release.
The House of Commons authorities asked police Friday to investigate the leaking of the expenses details. Several newspapers reported that they had been offered computer discs for a three-figure sum by a businessman who claimed he had access to a duplicate of the scanned expense receipts.