The price of democracy: £87m in MPs' expenses

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Indy Politics

MPs faced a challenge from the public standards watchdog to submit details of their spending claims after being paid almost £87m in expenses and allowances last year.

The average cost of an MP, taking their salaries into account, has now passed the £200,000 mark, figures from the House of Commons showed. Their expenses claim of £86.8m covered the costs of running their offices, travel, housing, stationery and computers in 2005-06.

Sir Alistair Graham, the chair of the committee on standards in public life, said it was time MPs were required to submit receipts for their travel expenses.

He said: "It would be sensible to try to raise public confidence by ensuring the arrangements they have are very similar to those across the public sector. You have to provide detailed receipts to demonstrate you have spent the money."

Margaret Beckett, the Foreign Secretary, claimed almost £100,000 on staffing costs, the highest figure for any MP. Her Commons office is run by her husband, Leo. She was among several cabinet members, including Tony Blair, John Prescott and Gordon Brown, who between them claimed more than £110,000 for running second homes, although they are provided with "grace and favour" accommodation in London.

Mr Blair was paid £8,399 towards the cost of his constituency home in Sedgefield, Co Durham, about half the previous year's total of £16,417. Overall, he claimed £87,432 in expenses. David Cameron, the Conservative leader, filed the highest claim among the party leaders with a bill for £135,729. The Liberal Democrat leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, took £123,617.

In spite of his reputation for frugality, Mr Brown spent £134,586, including a claim of £18,681 for a second home. The overall total for Commons expenses marked a sharp increase on the total claims in the previous year of £80.8m, although the figure was boosted by extra payments to MPs who retired or lost their seats at the last election.

The total bill for MPs, including their salaries of £59,686, last year came to £131.4m, an average of £203,000 per head, although that excludes contributions towards their final-salary pension scheme.

The biggest amount of expenses was paid to Eric Joyce, the Labour MP for Falkirk, whose total claim of £174,811 included £44,985 in travel costs and £78,615 in staffing costs. He also claimed £25,005 for running his office and £21,629 for staying away from his main home.

He was followed by Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, (£161,815), and Ashok Kumar, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland (£161,049).

Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering (£49,576), was the lowest claimant, apart from Sinn Fein MPs who do not take their seats.

MPs are entitled to unlimited travel expenses between Westminster and their constituencies and within their constituencies. Their mileage rate is 40p per mile for the first 10,000 miles a year and 25p for the rest. Cycling MPs can claim 20p per mile.

Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat who acts as spokesman for the Members Estimate Committee which released the figures, said the figures showed MPs represented "excellent value for money". He added: "This money is for the essential cost of staffing and running their offices in Parliament and in the area they represent."

He said MPs needed "efficient staff, accessible accommodation, modern equipment, travel and good financial management" to be accessible to constituents.

But Matthew Elliott, the chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said yesterday: "Politicians have forced families to budget hard by raising taxes, but politicians don't think the same rules apply to them personally and they continue to run up massive expense accounts."

The most expensive MPs

1. Eric Joyce (Lab, Falkirk) £174,811

The former Army major spent more on travel than any other MP (£44,985).

2. Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dem, Orkney & Shetland) £161,815

Spent £38,559 travelling to the UK's northernmost constituency.

3. Ashok Kumar (Lab, Middlesbrough S & E Cleveland) £161,049

His staffing costs were £84,400.

4. Jacqui Smith (Lab, Redditch) £158,313

The Labour Chief Whip was the top cabinet claimant. She spent £16,458 on postage.

5. Alex Salmond (SNP, Banff & Buchan) £157,844

He claimed £5,342 for staff travelling costs.

6. Andrew George (Lib Dem, St Ives) £157,308

His office and staffing costs totalled £103,860.

7. Liam Byrne (Lab, Birmingham Hodge Hill) £156,988

The Immigration minister spent £18,212 on postage.

8. Sharon Hodgson (Lab, Gateshead E & Washington W) £156,891

The former clerk claimed £26,141 for running her office.

9. Ian Davidson (Lab, Glasgow SW) £155,521

He claimed £7,998 for 'other costs'.

10. Ian Austin (Lab, Dudley N) £155,242

Gordon Brown's former spin doctor spent £25,229 running his office.

... and the others

Tony Blair last year claimed £87,342 on top of his Prime Minister's salary. His claim for a second home in Sedgefield was halved from £16,417 to £8,399.

David Cameron the Conservative leader, filed the highest claim among the party leaders with a bill for £135,729. The MP for Witney, he claimed £21,359 for his second home and £2,666 for travel expenses as an MP although he also has a car at the taxpayers' expense.

Gordon Brown the Chancellor, despite his reputation for being frugal, spent £134,586. His claim for a second home was £18,681. His travel expenses as an MP were £7,608 but that does not include ministerial travel.

Margaret Beckett claimed £132,996. Her staff costs were the highest of any MP with £99,589. Her husband, Leo, is in charge of her office.

Sir Menzies Campbell the Liberal Democrat leader, charged £123,617. His constituency is in North East Fife, and he claimed £13,449 in travel expenses.

Des Browne the Defence Secretary, charged £21,606 for his second home. His constituency is in Kilmanrock, Scotland. He charged £11,064 in travel expenses, just as an MP.

George Galloway the Respect MP, charged the taxpayer £107,030 but £97,809 of that was taken in staff costs.

David Blunkett the former cabinet minister who rented a house on the Chatsworth estate, Derbyshire, claimed expenses of £136,562 including £21,634 for a second home.

John Prescott the Deputy Prime Minister, claimed £115,013, including £12,826 for his second home in his Hull East constituency.

Claire Curtis-Thomas the MP for Crosby who made the highest expenses claim two years ago, slipped to 80th place. She claimed £143,088.