Taxpayers forked out pounds 2m for defeated MPs

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The Independent Online
THE TAXPAYER forked out more than pounds 2m last year to pay for the office costs of MPs who had already left the Commons.

The payments allowed members who retired or were defeated to walk away with lump sums totalling up to pounds 70,000, on top of pensions of up to pounds 20,000. The Leader of the Commons, Ann Taylor, has refused to answer an MP's questions about the 1992 election, when the payments are believed to have been even higher. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, is to appeal against the decision under the Code of Conduct on Open Government.

Although last year's election took place on 1 May, one month into the financial year, retiring MPs were allowed to continue claiming their office costs allowances until the end of June. Those who were defeated were also given two months' extra payment for accommodation in London.

The bonuses came on top of already generous allowances for MPs leaving the Commons. For example, a 64 year-old with 20 years' service who retired last year was entitled to a pounds 15,865 "winding up allowance" and pounds 43,860 for "assistance with the costs of adjusting to non-parliamentary life". In addition, he could claim up to pounds 11,892 for office costs for the three months after the dissolution of Parliament in April: a total of pounds 71,617.

An MP of the same age and length of service who was defeated received the same winding-up and adjustment allowances, plus up to pounds 2,047 for accommodation during May and June. He received up to pounds 7,928 office costs allowance after 1 May.

If all the MPs had claimed the maximum office costs allowance - and some incomplete figures released by Mrs Taylor suggest most did - then the total paid after their leaving dates would have been around pounds 2m.

It is understood that in 1992, MPs were allowed to claim a full year's office costs allowance even though the election took place on 9 April, nine days into the financial year.

Mr Baker said he was writing to David Clark, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, to appeal for more information to be released. A refusal would lead people to assume everyone was milking the system, he suggested.

"It is in MPs' interests that these questions are fully and frankly answered. The replies which I have been presented with do no good to anybody, least of all to those MPs who were defeated or stood down," he said.

Asked how Mr Clark would be likely to respond, a Cabinet Office spokeswoman referred The Independent to a parliamentary answer given in December to Mr Baker on freedom of information.

"Ministers should be as open as possible with Parliament, refusing to provide information only when disclosure would not be in the public interest," it said.