London It has all the makings of a Monty Python sketch — prim British lawmakers caught in a farce over expense claims for everything from X-rated movies to a bathtub plug.
But reality has come home to roost in the often absurd world of Her Majesty’s Government.
Friday’s leaked list of lawmaker expenses has leveled another blow to Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s beleaguered government, which has been blamed for a litany of problems ranging from the Iraq war to the deepening recession.
According to the details published by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, Brown paid his brother Andrew more than $9,800 in two years for a maid the two shared when Brown was Britain’s Treasury chief.
The newspaper declined to say how it had obtained expense claims from 13 ministers but promised to roll out more in the coming days.
Home Office Secretary Jacqui Smith expensed two X-rated movies her husband watched, which she later repaid. Housing minister and former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett claimed $900 for hanging plant baskets. And former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott claimed $450 over two years to fix broken toilet seats.
The list could also prove damaging to the opposition Conservatives — one Tory lawmaker expensed fertilizer used on his country house garden while a different lawmaker put in for cans of cat food.
Other expenses, categorized only by political party, included toilet seats, horse manure, wine rack, rat poison, pool maintenance, piano tuning, a chocolate Santa and a pizza cutter.
“I know people will be angry and it looks very bad,” Harriet Harman, a Cabinet minister, told the BBC. “We recognize that ... public confidence is dented and we want to restore respect for the House of Commons.”
The Telegraph offered more details in today’s edition, reporting that tourism minister Barbara Follett claimed more than $38,000 over a four-year period for security patrols, CCTV cameras and alarms outside her London home. Follett is married to best-selling thriller writer Ken Follett, and the couple have a multimillion-dollar fortune.
The newspaper said Follett also claimed $805.78 for a Chinese needlepoint rug to be repaired and cleaned, but was only paid back $457 after the cost was deemed excessive. Follett said all her claims were within the rules.
Rules governing British lawmaker expenses are laid out in the 66-page Green Book — a guide sent to every legislator. It sets limits on expense claims, such as a $38 cap on eating out when away from home and how much can be claimed toward a second home, usually a residence in London.
Lawmakers can claim annual expenses, including $36,000 toward running and paying for their second home, up to $135,500 on staff, $31,600 on office costs and an unlimited amount on travel for parliamentary business.
Though the guidelines don’t ban any specific items, the rules say expenses should relate to parliamentary work and shouldn’t damage the Parliament’s reputation.