LONDON — Porn movies. Horse manure. A chocolate Santa Claus. Expense claims by British lawmakers to pay for an array of items were exposed by a newspaper Friday, stoking public anger over lawmaker excess amid the global recession.
Britain's Daily Telegraph published details of claims related to 13 ministers and offered examples of hundreds of other bills submitted by lawmakers to parliamentary authorities.
The documents revealed how some lawmakers used lax regulations to accumulate hefty bills to pay for housing taxes and costs of furnishing homes, while others claimed for trivial amounts — including a packet of ginger snaps worth about $1, two cans of cat food and an ice cube tray.
One lawmaker claimed the cost of servicing the swimming pool of his country home, while another paid for a hunter to catch moles who'd invaded his garden, according to the newspaper.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown — then Britain's treasury chief — paid his brother Andrew 6,500 pounds ($9,800) for cleaning services between 2004 and 2006. Brown's office said the leader's brother had handled payments for a cleaner the two men shared.
Figures released to Parliament show that the 646 House of Commons legislators claimed 93 million pounds ($134 million) in allowances and expenses last year.
Husband's pay-per-view porn
In March, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith acknowledged she'd claimed the costs of two pay-per-view porn movies watched by her husband. Smith said she later repaid the money.
"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.
Under Parliament's rules, legislators can claim expenses for a second home and expenses incurred when staying away overnight from their main home. They can claim rent, for example, or mortgage payments and furnishings, such as drapes, carpets and electrical goods.
The price for such furnishings were colloquially known as the "John Lewis list," named after an upscale British department store chain. The list is being axed under reforms of the system currently under discussion.
Lawmakers had long refused to offer receipt by receipt breakdowns of their claims for public money, until a ruling under freedom of information laws ordered them to make the details known.
About 2 million receipts for claims by legislators will be published in July under the ruling, but the newspaper said Friday it had obtained the material ahead of its planned release.
Members of the public complain the expenses system is too generous, isn't independently audited and follows rules drafted by the lawmakers 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 claimed the cost of housing taxes he'd never actually paid — though later reimbursed authorities. In a handwritten note explaining his mistake, Straw wrote that "accountancy does not appear to be my strongest suit."
Brown admits 'system doesn't work'
Culture Secretary Andy Burnham urged authorities to speed up an expenses payment. He told Parliament's fees office "he might be in line for a divorce" if he didn't receive the money quickly.
"The system doesn't work," Brown told the BBC. "I've said it doesn't work, it's got to be changed."
Britain's prime minister makes about 189,000 pounds a year ($285,000), while most lawmakers make about 61,000 pounds (about $93,100.) By comparison, U.S. legislators in Washington earn a base salary of $174,000.
A key concern for critics of the system is how lawmakers routinely switched the house they called their primary residence. Those changes meant they could claim second home allowances — like the costs of furniture, decorating and repairs — on several different properties.
Other bills show how lawmakers were prepared to claim even small amounts, including a carrier bag that cost 5p ($0.07), a chocolate Santa Claus-shaped snack priced at 59p ($0.88) and a tape measure costing 43 pence ($0.64). One particularly wealthy Tory MP charged 10 pounds ($15) for a bag of manure for his country retreat.
The Telegraph declined to say whether it had paid to obtain details of the expense claims, or specify how it received the information.
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