Backbenchers pounds 11,500 richer if PM delays poll to April

MPs Will be able to claim more than pounds 11,500 in office costs if John Major calls an election in April or May, prompting some Conservative backbenchers to lobby privately for the Prime Minister to postpone the election, writes Stephen Castle.

New office allowances from 1 April entitle MPs to the cash if Mr Major goes to the country on either of two favoured dates: 10 April or 1 May. One MP last week said that several Conservative backbenchers had confessed to being anxious to see an election postponed into the new financial year. "It's quite a lot of money for someone who's leaving parliament," the MP said.

Under the regulations, up to pounds 46,364 can be claimed by MPs each year to run their offices. This is made available in four three-month instalments, allowing members to claim up to a quarter of the total in any one three- month period.

The allowance is for expenditure on salaries and office equipment. The Fees Office at the Commons confirmed that the money could be used to top up redundancy payments for staff, for which there is a separate fund.

That raises the prospect of MPs whose wives act as their secretaries boosting their family income when they retire or lose their seats. It also means that MPs could invest in big new spending, for example, on computer equipment, at the beginning of the new financial year without having to return any of the money.

One senior MP yesterday conceded that there is a possibility of an abuse of the system, adding: "It might be a good reason for the auditor to look at expenditure made in the last few days of the parliament."

The current arrangements represent a tightening of policy since the last election, when MPs could claim the entire annual allowance at any point in the financial year.

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