MPs have rejected reforms of their controversial expenses, in defiance of public uproar over their taxpayer-funded claims for kitchens, bathrooms and plasma televisions.
While voting to keep the £24,000-a-year budget to buy and kit out second homes, they also killed off moves to subject their allowances to external audits following recent scandals.
But they approved a new programme to kit themselves out with bigger and better constituency offices at an additional cost to the taxpayer of up to £3.2 million every year.
The package retaining the so-called “John Lewis list” of household items and property improvements was backed mainly by Labour MPs.
They included a string of ministers including Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and Housing Minister Caroline Flint.
But more than half of MPs – including Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Chancellor Alistair Darling - stayed away from the Commons for the contentious vote.
It marked the culmination of a “root and branch” review undertaken by a top Commons committee after the scope for abuse of the £90 million allowances regime was laid bare earlier this year.
The Committee on Standards in Public Life, the Westminster anti-sleaze watchdog, is now almost certain to conduct its own investigation of the Commons expenses regime.
Many MPs chastised their colleagues for clinging on to the “John Lewis list” which has exposed parliamentarians to endless ridicule and hostility in recent months.
Walsall North Labour MP David Winnick warned that the vote would do nothing for the reputation of Parliament.
“I think this was a missed opportunity which I regret. It gives the impression of an abuse of public expenditure,” he said. “That doesn’t enhance our reputation collectively, even though the overwhelming majority of members are not involved.”
But Don Touhig, a Labour MP and former Minister who spearheaded the drive against reforms, insisted the Additional Costs Allowance to cover second homes was necessary.
“I think most fair-minded people would accept that the extraordinary situation of an MP needing to live both in his or her constituency and London requires an allowance to support that cost,” he told the Commons before the vote.
And he said the plans for an external audit, common to all public bodies and private companies, were ill thought out and would cost millions.
Instead, there will now be additional scrutiny of MPs’ expenses claims but conducted internally by the Commons authorities.
MPs also accepted a new requirement to provide the Commons with contracts and job descriptions for all of their taxpayer-funded staff.
It has emerged that 87 have previously refused to do so, despite requests.
The package adopted last night will also increase the annual bill for MPs’ constituency offices from £2.8 million to potentially £6 million.
Many have been complaining that they cannot currently rent decent accommodation with their allowances. Offices will now be procured and paid for by a surveyor employed by the Commons.
London MPs will also get a new capital-weighting allowance of £7,500.