New British government rocked by minister's resignation

30th May 2010, Comments 0 comments

Britain's new coalition government was dealing Sunday with its first blow after David Laws, a high-profile finance minister, resigned over expenses revelations that also exposed his homosexuality.

Laws stepped down as Chief Secretary to the Treasury 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 boyfriend.

"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," Laws said in a brief statement Saturday.

The wealthy former banker, a member of the Liberal Democrat junior coalition partners, said he had not disclosed the financial arrangement because of "my desire to keep my sexuality secret."

"I cannot now escape the conclusion that what I have done was in some way wrong even though I did not gain any financial benefit from keeping my relationship secret," he said.

In a letter accepting the resignation, Conservative Prime Minister David 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."

Cameron said he hoped Laws could return to the government one day as he had "a huge amount to offer our country."

Laws was deputy to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, of the Conservative Party, at the Treasury.

It is one of the highest-profile roles in a government that has made reducing Britain's record 2009-2010 deficit of 156.1 billion pounds a priority.

Osborne and Laws on Monday unveiled spending cuts worth 6.25 billion pounds.

His successor will be another Lib Dem, Danny Alexander, who was formerly the minister responsible for Scotland, Cameron's Downing Street office said.

Osborne expressed regret at Laws' departure, saying: "It was as if he had been put on Earth to do the job that was asked of him."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, said he hoped Laws could return to government.

"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 Daily 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 James Lundie, a lobbyist.

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.

Although Laws had apologised for claiming the money and referred himself to the parliamentary expenses watchdog, he decided that his role in a department charged with slashing public spending had been fatally compromised.

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.

The September 2004 event had 14 guests, 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.

International Development minister 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."

Britain's first coalition government since World War II emerged from the inconclusive May 6 general election.

The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government ousted Gordon Brown's Labour administration.

© 2010 AFP

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