MPs own up before their hands are forced

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Indy Politics

MPS were accused yesterday of a cover up over the amount of their expenses amid accusations that a breakdown of taxpayers' cash claimed by members for car and air travel is being deliberately concealed from the public.

MPS were accused yesterday of a cover up over the amount of their expenses amid accusations that a breakdown of taxpayers' cash claimed by members for car and air travel is being deliberately concealed from the public.

The House of Commons authorities will publish details today of how individual MPs claim expenses, but freedom of information campaigners claim it should be more transparent about the amount of taxpayers' money claimed by MPs.

Voters will be able to see how much their MP spends on travel, but not whether they choose first or second class on trains, whether they fly or cycle or drive gas-guzzling cars. Details of how much MPs claim for travel for their husbands, wives and children to and from Westminster will not be published.

The disclosure of expenses claims running into hundreds of thousands of pounds, including an allowance for MPs' London accommodation, will reignite the bitter debate over MPs' pay and perks, which average £119,000 and can rise as high as £150,000 for members from far-flung constituencies. Controversy is likely to centre on the £20,000 a year "additional costs allowance" which is designed to cover accommodation costs for MPs while they are away from home in London, but in practice is used by many MPs to cover mortgage payments on central London properties. On average, MPs claim about £120,000 for staff and expenses on top of their salaries of £57,485.

Environmentalists are concerned about the generous 57 pence a mile paid to allow MPs to drive between London and their constituencies, which is said to encourage them to run gas-guzzling cars.

Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat environment spokesman, said MPs had recently been sent breakdowns of their claims for car, air and rail travel but these will not be released by the Commons authorities. He is to lodge an official appeal about the lack of information when the Freedom of Information Act comes into force in January.

The complaint will be directed to the House of Commons Commission, the committee of MPs chaired by the Speaker, Michael Martin, which is publishing today's figures.

Mr Baker said: "I think members of the public have a right to know whether MPs are helping the fight against climate change by using public transport or contributing to the problem by driving to and from their constituencies.

"This information is collected and sent to MPs. Why isn't it being published? I have already asked for the details to be published but my request was refused. [In the new year] I will be putting my applications in under the Freedom of Information Act for this information to be disclosed."

Cabinet ministers, who are entitled to "grace and favour" accommodation as a perk of their jobs, are expected to come under scrutiny for the amount they claim for private residences in London. David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, has turned down subsidy for a London home because he has an official residence in the capital.

But other ministers, including John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, and Margaret Beckett, the Environment Secretary, all have apartments in Admiralty House in Westminster paid for out of the public purse.

It emerged yesterday that ministers would not have to live in their London homes to claim the additional subsidy, but only to "demonstrate" that they were needed for their parliamentary work.

A number of MPs employ their wives as secretaries but the public will not be able to see how much they receive because there will not be a breakdown.

MPs living in outer London are also expected to face criticism if they have claimed subsidies for a residence in inner London close to the Commons.

The subsidy was designed for MPs who live outside London, often in constituencies hundreds of miles from Westminster, so they can attend debates and votes. But some of Britain's wealthiest MPs, including Barbara Follett, who is married to Ken Follett, a best-selling novelist who is worth £15m, claims an allowance for her Soho flat.

A number of MPs with constituencies within commuting distance of London claim subsidies on second homes in the capital. They include Jenny Tonge, Liberal Democrat MP for Richmond Park. In contrast, Kelvin Hopkins takes the train every day between his home in Luton and Westminster.

Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North and a junior Northern Ireland minister, claimed £20,333 last year under the "additional costs allowance". He cost the taxpayer £190,570 last year, including his ministerial salary. In the neighbouring constituency of Brent East, the Liberal Democrat MP Sarah Teather does not claim the allowance because the journey to Westminster takes only half an hour.

All three major parties have agreed to put expenses off limits to MPs and candidates in the general election, amid fears that arguments over claims will lead to a bout of mud-slinging that will damage Parliament.

WHAT PUBLIC SECTOR WORKERS GET

Nurses: £17,060 to £34,920. The inner London allowance adds £3,441.

Hospital Consultants: £67,133 to £90,838. Overtime is paid. Can take on extra paid NHS work, as well as private practice.

Firefighters: £8,677, at age 16, to £25,000 with 15 years' service. Overtime is up to £17.80 per hour. Few expenses entitlements.

Secondary teachers: £18,558 to £27,123 (outside London), £22,059 to £36,750 (inside). Few expenses entitlements, but can apply for performance related bonuses, typically adding £1,000-£2,000.

Police constables: £18,666 to £39,307. Overtime payable. Small allowances, varying from force to force.

Each profession has a final salary pension scheme. Some teachers, nurses and PCs are eligible for the key worker housing initiative.

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