British minister apologises over expenses claims

29th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

A key minister in the new British coalition government was forced to apologise Friday after reports he had channelled tens of thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money to his long-time partner.

Chief Treasury Secretary David Laws said he would immediately repay the money which the Daily Telegraph newspaper claimed totalled more than 40,000 pounds (57,800 dollars, 47,100 euros).

Laws, a millionaire former banker who is a member of the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners, has also referred himself to the parliamentary standards watchdog.

In a statement, the minister said he and his lobbyist partner, James Lundie, had wanted to keep their relationship "private".

"I've been involved in a relationship with James Lundie since around 2001 -- about two years after first moving in with him.

"Our relationship has been unknown to both family and friends throughout this time."

He added: "At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as 'one of a couple who although not married to each other or civil partners are living together and treat each other as spouses'.

"Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses -- for example we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives.

"However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation and will immediately pay back the costs of the rent and other housing costs I claimed from the time the rules changed until August 2009."

The Telegraph reported that Laws claimed up to 950 pounds a month for five years to rent a room in two properties owned by his partner.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said: "The Prime Minister has been made aware of this situation and agrees with David Laws' decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner."

The revelation is embarrassing for Cameron, who has pledged to clean up politics after last year's expenses scandal, in which lawmakers were shown to have claimed for everything from porn films to ornamental duck houses.

© 2010 AFP

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