The government has been shaken by the steady leak of information detailing the items politicians claimed in their recent expense reports.
The scale of parliamentarians' alleged abuse of the expense system ranges from those who claimed thousands of pounds on second homes and furniture to those who filed expenses on the minuscule, such as candy bars and bathroom plugs.
Lawmakers' expense claims were due to be published in July after a U.S. freelance journalist, Heather Brooke, won a freedom of information campaign to have them published. But the Daily Telegraph newspaper began publishing details last week after obtaining leaked information.
From the governing Labor Party, politicians' shopping list examples include: Tourism Minister Barbara Follett's $805.78 claim for a Chinese needlepoint rug to be repaired and cleaned; Universities spokesman David Willets' $150 claim for workers to change 25 light bulbs; politician Margaret Moran's $30,000 claim for repairing dry rot in a house nowhere near her constituency nor near Parliament; and, as the representative for Hull in the north of England, John Prescott's claim to have his toilet seat fixed ... twice.
Things don't fare much better for the Conservative Party. Claims include more than $3,000 to repair piping under tennis courts, the maintenance of a "helipad" and the upkeep of swimming pools.
One Conservative backbencher, Douglas Hogg, has denied claiming $3,055 to cover the cost of clearing a moat on his country estate but admitted claiming $22,147 for the cost of a housekeeper. Deputy Commons Speaker Alan Haslehurst is reported to have claimed $217,000 on his country house and $18,347 for gardening bills for five years.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown was forced to apologize Monday for some of the claims and said that public trust must be restored immediately. "I want to apologize on behalf of politicians, on behalf of all parties, for what has happened in the events of the last few days," he told reporters.
But even the prime minister may have dirty hands, given that he paid his brother more than $10,000 for employing a cleaner for two years to clean properties owned by them in London. Downing Street has said that Brown's use of Parliament expenses to pay his brother for cleaning was entirely legitimate.
There are various ways that members of Parliament have been able to find loopholes in the "expenses rules" laid out in a set of parliamentary guidelines known as the "Green Book."
Most politicians accused of submitting lavish expense claims were technically following guidelines. but as Michael Martin, the Commons speaker, put it when he addressed members of Parliament Monday, politicians had to consider "the spirit of what is right" when making claims.
One particular claim that has raised a public outcry is the second-homes allowance, which opponents complain is a way for politicians to boost their property portfolio.