Speaker says new system will end expenses row

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Indy Politics

The speaker of the House of Commons has attempted to limit the fall-out from further damaging revelations about MPs' expenses claims, insisting that the "vastly superior" new system of allowances would finally put an end to the scandal.

John Bercow, who won the race to become Commons Speaker based on his vow to back reforms to the expenses system, said that the short-term pain of publishing receipts would ultimately lead to greater trust and transparency. He said the decision to redact less of the information for the claims submitted last year and the first three months of 2009 meant they were "more detailed" and "more transparent" than the first tranche of receipts published earlier this year. He added MPs had finally "taken on board the overwhelming media and public anger" about the previous expenses system.

"I think there has been a great improvement this year," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme. "Voters in individual constituencies and the media themselves can see precisely what members of Parliament have claimed and they can make their own judgement on the appropriateness or otherwise of those claims."

However, one minister will not answer the concerns of his constituents this week. The defence minister Quentin Davies, whose bell tower has become emblematic of the latest expenses scandal, cancelled a scheduled constituency surgery yesterday. Mr Davies was found to have submitted a receipt of £20,700 for repairs to the "bell tower and lead gutter" at his 18-century property in Boston, Lincolnshire.

Mr Davies instead headed to Spain to a meeting of Europe's defence ministers. His office said that though he would be returning yesterday afternoon, he would be too late to make the surgery and so has rescheduled it for next week. Mr Bercow refused to discuss Mr Davies's claim, but added that the new transparency had already made the culture within Westminster "much more reasonable and much more circumspect".

Revelations that the Environment Secretary, Ed Miliband, had ordered 831 pints of bottled spring water for his office in two years caught up with him as he continued negotiations for a climate change deal in Copenhagen. "We used a water cooler because we had no proper kitchen facilities in the office," he said. "We chose Aquaid because they support Christian Aid's projects to supply drinking water for the developing world."

It also emerged that Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, had his expenses suspended because of an outstanding £5,000 bill for two trips taken as part of all-party groups of parliamentarians. Mr Joyce apologised "for the highly regrettable" error.