Phil Hope, the Labour health minister, has agreed to pay back more than £41,000 he claimed in expenses to refurbish his second home.
The care services minister this morning announced he would write a cheque for £41,709 to cover the cost of the furniture and fittings he claimed for the property – a small two bedroom flat in south London.
The sum being returned by Mr Hope is the largest amount an MP has pledged to refund since the expenses scandal broke, but dozens of other members are expected to follow suit under pressure from their party leaders.
The Corby and East Northants MP said that his announcement was unrelated to fears over his slender 1,517 majority – and said he should be able to find the money “within a week or so”.
“It is going to be difficult, it is going to be challenging but this is a personal decision that we [he and his wife Allison] have made together,” he told Sky News.
In a statement, Mr Hope insisted his claims were within the rules, but said he wanted to correct the “dreadful perception” and he enriched himself with taxpayers’ money.
“The anger of my constituents and the damage done to perceptions of my integrity concerning the money I have received to make my London accommodation habitable has been a massive blow to me that I cannot allow to continue,” he said.
Mr Hope is following in the footsteps of Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, and backbench Labour MP Margaret Moran in agreeing to refund questionable payments following a week of disclosures about expense system abuses in The Daily Telegraph.
Miss Blears has agreed to pay back £13,000 in capital gains tax from profits on a house paid for by the taxpayer, while Miss Moran will return the £22,500 she claimed for treating dry rot at a house 100 miles from her constituency.
Alan Duncan, the shadow leader of the Commons, will repay more than £5,000 in gardening costs; Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, will repay £2,600 claimed for home improvements; and Oliver Letwin, the chairman of the Conservatives’ policy team, will refund £2,000 for getting pipes repaired under his tennis court.
Mr Lansley apologised to his South Cambridgeshire constituents for claiming “overgenerous” expenses in a letter to his local paper. “The public has every right to be angry about MPs’ allowances. I was part of that system and I’m sorry for my part in it,” he wrote.
The announcements come amid a growing acceptance at Westminster that politicians from the three major parties must act decisively to restore public trust in parliamentary democracy or risk a backlash from the electorate in the June 4 European and local council polls.
David Cameron has said that Tory MPs shown to have broken the rules could be sacked, and on Tuesday Gordon Brown has admitted that “extreme” action is needed to restore public trust in politicians.
The Prime Minister said an independent review of every claim made over the past four years would allow MPs to show they are “worthy of public trust”.
“I think the issue here with Hazel Blears is about the sale of a house where CGT could or could not have been paid,” Mr Brown said. “She has looked at what has happened, I have talked to her, she has repaid the money.”
Mr Brown said other ministers who had come in for criticism over their accommodation arrangements, including Chancellor Alistair Darling and Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, were in a “different position” but could still face disciplinary action if the independent review found there were problems.
Mr Hope, who has also been criticised for employing his son Nick and daughter Anna for parliamentary work, said that he was repaying his expenses because the Telegraph’s disclosures had “fundamentally changed the view people have of me and that is something I cannot bear.”
The MP billed taxpayers for so much furniture for his second home in Southwark, south London – including a chest of drawers, a mattress, a television, a sofa, an armchair, a washing machine, three chairs, two bookcases, one coffee table, a wardrobe and a dining room table – that questions were raised about how it could have all fitted into the small flat.
His statement read: “I have worked very hard over the last 12 years to represent and fight for my constituents, and their opinion of me as a person matters hugely to both myself and my wife Allison.
“We feel very badly hurt by what has happened and although I kept to the rules laid down by Parliament I cannot allow this dreadful perception about what I claimed in allowances to continue.
“I have decided to try to restore the trust and relationships I have with my constituents. I am returning all of the money that I have claimed for fittings, furniture and household items that I received over a five year period – the sum of £41,709.
“This will be paid to the House authorities as soon as the necessary arrangements can be made.”
Speaking to Sky News, he added: “This is not about votes; this is about who I am. This is about me and this is a personal decision I am making.
“Whenever the election comes, whatever goes on there, I just want those people I represent to know, whether they vote for me or not, that I have personal integrity.”
Personal Intergrity- Health Direct asks why it took him so long to pay back his fiddled expenses aftre they became public knowledge? And how come he has so much spare cash sloshing around- the equivelent of two thrids of his annual salary- before tax?
Health minister Ben Bradshaw also received attention from The Daily Telegraph, although the paper’s prime interest was in the fact that the second home for which he has claimed around £1,600 a month in mortgage interest payments is jointly owned with his civil partner. His total claims over the four year period were £56,568.
Health secretary Alan Johnson was absent from The Daily Telegraph’s detailed coverage, with no details reported.