THE row over Commons expenses led to demands this evening for the second home allowance to be scrapped for MPs living within commuting distance of London.
At the same time there were calls for the Standards Commissioner to investigate the actions of a senior Labour MP accused of cheating on his wife by smuggling a woman into his Commons office late at night.
The expenses controversy grew after it was revealed that the Minister for London is facing an investigation into his claims.
A complaint was made to parliamentary watchdogs after Tony McNulty received 60,000 in second home allowances for time spent at the house in Harrow where his parents live, while his own house was just nine miles away in Hammersmith.
Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather put down a Commons motion calling for major reform of the second home rules, saying: `Thousands of commuter travel to work in Central London every single day, so why on earth shouldn`t their MPs?`
John Lyon, the Standards Commissioner, will decide whether to launch a formal probe into the case which could sound the death knell of the Commons `gravy train`.
He is already probing Home Secretary Jacqui Smith`s claims for expenses after she cited her sister`s spare room in London as her `main residence`. The formal complaint against Mr McNulty, who is also Employment Minister, was made by Conservative MP Greg Hands, who said the minister`s position was `indefensible`.
In a letter to the Standards Commissioner, Mr Hands said there were several `potential breaches` of the rules involved. These include that it was unnecessary expenditure and that the fact his parents live there was likely to bring Parliament into `disrepute`.
`He needs to be honest about exactly how he used this house,` said Mr Hands. `It is essential that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards gets to the bottom of whether Tony McNulty has been abusing parliamentary allowances.`
Home Secretary Jacqui Smith is under investigation by Mr Lyon. Ms Smith claimed that her primary residence was a spare room in her sister`s London house - and that her family home in the Midlands, where her husband and children live, was a second home, enabling her to receive 60,000 in expenses over five years.
Other London MPs have come under the spotlight, particularly the few who claim the maximum possible for running a second home despite being within commuting distance of Westminster. They now all face a major inquiry by the Committee On Standards in Public Life, which announced that it was going to review the wider issue of MPs` expenses claims.
The Prime Minister`s spokesman said Gordon Brown had full confidence in Mr McNulty, but refused to discuss the specific allegations. `These are not really issues that relate to Mr McNulty`s government responsibilities,` he said. `These really are questions that arise in his capacity as a Member of Parliament and therefore it`s not for me to get into that.`
Labour MP Martin Salter, the MP for Reading West who does not claim a penny in second home allowance, said the expenses system should be reformed to avoid such controversies. `I think there may be better ways of doing things,` he said.
An investigation by the Committee on Standards in Public Life is likely to lead to a root-and-branch overhaul of expenses. It could also look at MPs` pay.
Today Mr McNulty faced pressure to repay the Additional Costs Allowance he claimed over six years for the home he owns in his Harrow East constituency. Sir Alistair Graham, former chairman of the standards committee, said: `I think he has a few questions to answer. If he wasn`t staying overnight there, and the claim`s probably a bit dodgy anyway, there probably should be some money repaid.` Sir Alistair stressed that the allowances for second homes was exclusively to pay for expenses incurred for overnight stays.
Mr McNulty was one of 16 London MPs identified by the Standard as taking taxpayers` money for a second home even though they all live less than an hour`s commute from Westminster.
In Mr McNulty`s case he lives with wife Christine Gilbert in a house three miles from Westminster but has claimed for the home in Harrow, nine miles away, in which his parents live. Claims made in 2006/07, the most recent year for such figures, included four London MPs who were jointly the highest claimers for expenses for the cost of living in two places.
● Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North, claimed 22,110 in 2006/07 although his constituency is 26 minutes from Westminster by public transport.
● Leyton and Wanstead MP Harry Cohen, Labour, whose constituency is 28 minutes from Westminster by Tube, also claimed 22,110.
● Conservative MP for Romford Andrew Rosindell, lives 40 minutes away. He too claimed 22,110.
● Ilford South MP Mike Gapes`s constituency is 39 minutes away and the Labour MP claimed 22,110.
In the same year, Mr McNulty claimed 12,400 for the Harrow home, which he insists is regularly used for parliamentary work. But Conservatives questioned his defence, saying his constituency office where he holds weekly surgeries is less than two minutes drive away. Mr McNulty insisted he was within the rules to claim for the house. `I use it considerably,` he said. He said he stopped claiming the allowance in January. `I reflected on it and thought I could probably do without claiming it.`
The office of the Standards Commissioner this afternoon confirmed he had received emails of complaint over the conduct of Nigel Griffiths, the Edinburgh South MP who reportedly cheated on his wife in the Commons. Mr Griffiths has expressed `shame` over the reports in the News of the World and said his behaviour fell `below acceptable standards`.