UK Chief Treasury Secy apologises over expenses claims

UK Chief Treasury Secy apologises over expenses claims London: Britain's new coalition government suffered its first embarrassment on Saturday with revelations that powerful Chief Treasury Secretary David Laws wrongfully claimed MP's expenses to rent rooms in homes owned by his male partner.

Laws, the number two in the Treasury after Chancellor George Osborne, is a key figure in the government's economic policies, particularly in its plans to reduce Britain's mounting budget deficit.

Laws apologised after the revelations were published in the media and said he would immediately pay back about 40,000 pounds that he had wrongfully claimed between 2004 and 2007 in properties owned by his partner, James Lundie.

Since 2006 parliamentary rules have banned MPs from "leasing accommodation from a partner".

He said his motivation was to keep the relationship with the man private and not to reveal his own sexuality.

In a statement, Laws admitted claiming back the costs of sharing a home with Lundie from 2001 to June 2007.

Laws said, "At no point did I consider myself to be in breach of the rules which in 2009 defined partner as 'one of a couple? who although not married to each other or civil partners are living together and treat each other as spouses'.

"Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses - for example we do not share bank accounts and indeed have separate social lives. However, I now accept that this was open to interpretation and will immediately pay back the costs of the rent and other housing costs I claimed from the time the rules changed until August 2009."

"My motivation throughout has not been to maximise profit but to simply protect our privacy and my wish not to reveal my sexuality. I regret this situation deeply, accept that I should not have claimed my expenses in this way and apologise fully," he added.

A spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said, "The prime minister has been made aware of this situation and he agrees with David Laws' decision to self-refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner."

Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the BBC: "I'm a genuinely shocked that somebody who is now Chief Secretary to the Treasury is faced with disclosure of this nature where he clearly hasn't told the full truth to the people dealing with expenses in the House of Commons.

"Given all the expenses farrago that has gone on over the past two or three years, the fact that it has come to light now when he is a key part of a coalition government is staggering really."