U.K. Chief Secretary to the Treasury David Laws apologized for claiming expenses to share a home with his male partner, saying he will repay the money and refer himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.
“I’ve been involved in a relationship with James Lundie since around 2001, about two years after first moving in with him,” Laws, a Liberal Democrat member of Prime Minister David Cameron’s new coalition government, said in a statement issued through the Press Association. “Our relationship has been unknown to both family and friends throughout that time.”
Laws, who is helping to lead the government’s efforts to curb the budget deficit, said “at no point” did he consider himself to be in breach of parliamentary rules which defined partner as “one of a couple” who live together and treat each- other as spouses.
“Although we were living together we did not treat each other as spouses,” said Laws. “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.”
Laws, 44, issued his statement after the Daily Telegraph said he used public money to pay more than 40,000 pounds ($57,830) to Lundie.
Cameron is “aware” of the situation involving Laws, the prime minister’s Downing Street office said in an e-mailed statement today.
Cameron “agrees with David Laws’ decision to self refer to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner,” according to the statement.
Laws’ statement comes days after the coalition government announced a plan to cut 6 billion pounds ($8.7 billion) of spending to curb the budget deficit, which swelled to 11.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product in the fiscal year ended in March. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne promised of deeper cuts later this year and Laws told reporters on May 24 “the years of public sector plenty are over.”
Alistair Graham, who was chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life from 2003 to 2007, said Laws should step aside while the investigation was carried out.
“I would have thought he might want to stand aside from this highly sensitive political role until the investigation has been carried out,” Graham told the Telegraph.
Former Liberal Democrat party leader Paddy Ashdown said the incident was “a personal tragedy which is excruciatingly painful” for Laws.
“He’s a very, very private man,” Asdown told the British Broadcasting Corp. in an interview. “Not even his closest friends -- and I’m one of those -- knew about his sexuality. I believe that he may have been caught, in a way, by the imprecise nature of the word ‘partnership’ in the House of Commons regulations. He did not believe it applied to him. That’s a matter now for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner to comment on.”
A series of stories about U.K. lawmaker expenses started appearing in the Telegraph newspaper in May 2009 after it bought a computer disc containing details of the claims. The revelations showed lawmakers claimed for items ranging from a floating house for ducks to the cost of clearing a moat. Several of those caught up in the furor stood down at the general election held on May 6.