British coalition rocked after minister quits over expenses

30th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's new coalition government was dealing with its first significant setback on Sunday after David Laws, a high-profile finance minister, quit over his expenses claims.

Laws stepped down as Chief Secretary to the Treasury after admitting he had failed to disclose that he had claimed back rent he paid to his boyfriend because he wanted to keep his homosexuality secret.

Former colleagues of the Liberal Democrat predicted he would make a swift return to the cabinet, having won praise for his performance in just 18 days as a minister in the Liberal Democrat-Conservative government.

Laws, a millionaire former banker, had been one of the chief architects of plans to reduce Britain's gaping budget deficit in his role as deputy to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.

He resigned after the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported he had channelled more than 40,000 pounds (57,800 dollars, 47,100 euros) of taxpayers' money in rent to his long-term male partner, James Lundie, a lobbyist.

Since 2006, parliamentary rules have banned lawmakers from "leasing accommodation from a partner."

A senior Conservative, Iain Duncan Smith, praised Laws for making the "right" decision to quit, but indicated that Prime Minister David Cameron could soon recall him to the cabinet table.

"I am deeply sorry that he has had to go," Duncan Smith told BBC TV. "I have no questions at all that he has the talent to be back."

Alan Duncan, the first openly gay Conservative lawmaker, said: "I'm upset by the hurt this must have caused him and I hope he'll soon be back."

Laws said in his resignation statement on Saturday that: "I do not see how I can carry out my crucial work on the budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations."

He said he had not registered the financial arrangement to the parliamentary authorities because of "my desire to keep my sexuality secret."

Cameron described Laws as a "good and honourable man" and said he believed he had been motivated "by wanting to protect your privacy rather than anything else."

He said Laws had "a huge amount to offer our country" and hoped he would soon be able to return to the government.

Laws had one of the highest-profile roles in a government that has made reducing Britain's 2009-2010 deficit of 156.1 billion pounds a priority -- he and Osborne have outlined spending cuts worth 6.25 billion pounds.

His successor will be another Lib Dem, Danny Alexander, who played a key role in the negotiations to form a coalition government following the indecisive May 6 general election.

Alexander will move over from his role as the minister responsible for Scotland.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, said he believed Laws' ministerial career could be revived.

"This has come about because of David's intense desire to keep his own private life private. His privacy has now been cruelly shattered," he added.

The Telegraph said 44-year-old Laws claimed up to 950 pounds a month for five years to rent a room in two properties owned by his partner.

In a statement Friday, Laws claimed he did not consider himself to be in breach of the rules on expenses as he and Lundie had separate bank accounts and separate social lives.

Laws was also facing questions over whether he should have declared an interest when hosting an event in parliament for the lobbying firm which employed Lundie.

There were 14 guests at the event in September 2004, the official list of functions shows.

Cameron has pledged to clean up politics after last year's expenses scandal, in which lawmakers were shown to have filed expenses claims for everything from porn films to ornamental duck houses.

© 2010 AFP

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