Laws apologises following expenses judgement

By Ian Dunt

David Laws was forced to apologise to parliament and his constituents today after the standards commissioner suspended him from the Commons for seven days.

The standards and privileges committee accepted that Mr Laws had broken expenses rule due to reasons of privacy, not financial gain, but nevertheless said he was guilty of “serious breaches. over a considerable time”.

Mr Laws broke a rule saying MPs must not use expenses to pay a partner for rent so that he would not reveal his homosexuality. He could have claimed an extra £30,000 if he abided by the rules.

“Mr Laws’ desire for secrecy led him to act in a way which was not compatible with the standards expected of an MP,” the standards commissioner found.

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“In my judgment, Mr Laws did not meet the full cost of his wish to keep that relationship secret.”

In a statement today, Mr Laws said: “I accept the conclusions of the inquiry and take full responsibility for the mistakes which I have made. I apologise to my constituents and to parliament.

“Each of us should be our own sternest critic, and I recognise that my attempts to keep my personal life private were in conflict with my duty as an MP to ensure that my claims were in every sense above reproach. I should have resolved this dilemma in the public interest and not in the interests of my privacy.

“However, from the moment these matters became public, I have made clear that my motivation was to protect my privacy, rather than to benefit from the system of parliamentary expenses, and I am pleased that the commissioner has upheld that view.”

The committee found that the claims made by Mr Laws for his partner’s flat were “excessive in comparision to market rent” to the tune of £4,470. it also found that he wrongly claimed £2,248 for phone calls.

The report was widely leaked to the press beforehand leading to accusations that one of the MPs on it was using their position to undermine Mr Laws.

After the report was published, chairman Kevin Barron announced an inquiry into the leak.

The report will be read gloomily by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, who are both keen for the former chief secretary to the Treasury to return to a frontbench role.

Mr Clegg in particular will be keen to have replacements available should one of his ministers – most obviously Vince Cable or Chris Huhne – decide to step down from Cabinet.

“He has a lot to offer,” Mr Cameron said today.

“I think we should go study that report and take it from there.”

With a substantial punishment established in the report, it will be politically difficult to have Mr Laws return to Cabinet in the near future.