Lib Dems' Laws suspended over expenses claims

LONDON Thu May 12, 2011 2:02pm BST

Former Treasury Secretary David Laws speaks during a press conference at the Treasury, in central London, in this May 17, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Andrew Winning

Former Treasury Secretary David Laws speaks during a press conference at the Treasury, in central London, in this May 17, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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LONDON (Reuters) - Former Liberal Democrat Treasury minister David Laws was suspended for seven days from parliament and ordered to apologise by a committee of inquiry on Thursday for breaking expenses rules.

Laws, a close ally of Lib Dem Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, resigned just 17 days after the party formed a coalition government with the Conservatives in May last year.

A former investment banker, he was seen as a rising Lib Dem star and both Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron have said they would like to see him return to front-line politics.

But Lib Dem sources said the timing of any return to a senior government role would depend in part on public reaction to the committee's decision.

The Standards and Privileges Committee said Laws should be suspended from the House of Commons for seven days, starting from June 7.

"Whatever his motives and subsequent behaviour, Mr Laws was guilty of a series of serious breaches of the rules, over a considerable time," it said in a report.

Laws stood down and referred himself to parliament's standards commissioner after a newspaper disclosed he had breached expenses rules by claiming for rent he had paid to his landlord, who was his male partner.

Since a 2006 change in expenses regulations, MPs are barred from claiming for rent paid to a spouse, partner or relative.

After his resignation, Laws repaid 56,592 pounds of expenses for London rent and food costs he had claimed since 2006.

He had said he hidden the relationship with his landlord solely to keep his homosexuality secret, that the rental arrangement had not benefited him financially and had even saved the taxpayer money.

Appearing in the Commons to apologise after the ruling, Laws said he took responsibility for his mistakes.

"If by my actions I have contributed in any way to further undermining the reputation of this House then I can only apologise without reservation," he said.

Parliament was rocked in 2009 by a scandal that revealed lax supervision of an expenses system which allowed many MPs to claim far more than was ever intended, amounting in some cases to outright fraud.

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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