In recent weeks the press, in particular The Times and the
Daily Mail, have carried news items concerning the manner in which MPs are
exploiting the system of allowances and expenses to provide themselves with
goodies that many would think have little to do with the effective exercise of
their duties as a Member of Parliament. We reproduce these stories here as clear evidence of the urgent need to bring our MPs back under control and to impose upon them a regime of Online Registers of their expenses so that we can begin to curb these disgraceful excesses.
These stories come at a time when David Maclean MP (Conservative Penrith & Border) has been steering through Parliament the Freedom Of Information (Amendment) Bill 2007. Ostensibly a private member's bill (such bills are notoriously difficult get onto the Statute Book due to constraints of time and the ability of the Government to hinder their passage), this Bill in fact has major support for a Bill of its kind from Labour in general and members of the Government in particular, notably eleven out of thirteen government whips. In addition the Bill seemed to benefit from some very generous rulings from the Deputy Speaker on 18th. May 2007 at the Third Reading of the Bill. For more on this Bill, see below.
The Sunday Times, 20th. May 2007
Secrecy MP got quad bike on expenses
Conservative MP behind moves to exempt MPs from freedom of information
legislation bought a £3,300 quad bike on parliamentary expenses.
David Maclean, the author of a private member’s bill to restricting voters’
rights to details of individual MPs’ pay and allowances, was granted permission
by the Commons authorities to charge his top of the range all-terrain vehicle
Maclean, a former Tory chief whip, has multiple sclerosis and argues that it
is the most efficient way of getting round parts of his rural constituency. But
the disclosure that he was able to claim the 250cc bike on expenses will fuel
the row over his new legislation, which was voted through by MPs last week.
Critics have attacked Maclean’s bill as a deliberate attempt to stop the
public obtaining embarrassing details of MPs’ expenses claims and fear the
measures will further undermine public trust in politicians.
defended the purchase, insisting he has nothing to hide. The 54-year-old walks
with the aid of a shepherd’s crook and says the alternative would be a mobility
scooter, which would not be as practical for attending events in his Penrith
and Borders constituency.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, he said: “Yes, I do have a quad bike, and
yes, I have bought it on expenses. I asked if I was eligible for it, and was
Official figures show that last year Maclean claimed a total of £129,700 in
Commons allowances – around the average figure for MPs – on top of his £59,000
basic salary. The sum includes £6,969 for motoring and £8,561 for train travel.
Of the quad bike he said: “I have the biggest constituency in the country
and I attend several big agricultural shows throughout the year. I can take it
anywhere. I could use a mobility scooter I suppose, but it would probably get
Maclean argues that his new laws are needed to protect confidential
correspondence between MPs and their constituents.
However, such correspondence is already covered by the Data Protection Act.
According to Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP who has led opposition to
Maclean’s bill, the information commissioner has not received a single
complaint from an MP’s constituent about the inappropriate release of
correspondence, and the Commons’ library has no records of such complaints.
Gordon Brown is facing fierce criticism for failing to discourage Labour MPs
from supporting Maclean’s measures. Several ministers backed the bill, which
was fiercely opposed by the Liberal Democrats.
However, the chancellor will act to prevent the government introducing new
restrictions on freedom of information requests proposed by Lord Falconer. The
prime minister in waiting has serious reservations about proposals to make it
more difficult for the public to obtain access to government documents.
He has already intervened to delay the plans proposed by Falconer, the
constitutional affairs secretary, by ordering the measures to be subjected to a
lengthy public consultation.
Although sources close to Brown insist “no decisions” have been made, they
made clear his disapproval of any moves to curb open government.
Despite his failure to act over Maclean’s bill, the chancellor’s allies
insist he remains fully committed to government openness, despite recent
embarrassment over secret Treasury papers released under the act. The documents
suggested Brown ignored advice when he abolished tax relief on pension funds.
There were more than 38,000 freedom of information requests in 2005, costing
public bodies millions of pounds. Falconer has said he wants to block “the most
difficult” requests by introducing a flat fee to “inhibit serial requesters”.
THE SUNDAY TIMES 3rd. JUNE 2007
Fish tanks and iPods ... what MPs claim on their allowances
MEMBERS of parliament are using their taxpayer-funded expense accounts
to buy iPods, plasma screen televisions and even, in one case, a fish
tank, insiders have alleged.
Finance administrators have been
approving a wide array of executive gadgets despite widespread public
concern about abuses of the parliamentary expenses system. MPs
routinely claim thousands of pounds a year without having to produce
receipts or other evidence that they have made any purchases.
MPs have also remortgaged their homes to release thousands of pounds and then used their allowances to cover the repayments.
names of MPs who have received the extravagant items have not been
revealed but one well-placed insider said: “There has been a successful
claim for a very expensive, large plasma television and for a fish
tank. After discussion among officials in the fees office, both were
“Also, in the run-up to Christmas last year, a lot of MPs suddenly started claiming for iPods. The system really is outrageous.”
official review into MPs’ pay, pensions and allowances, due to report
to the prime minister later this month, is now expected to call for a
tightening of the expenses rules.
Despite heavy lobbying from
senior MPs, including Jack Straw, the Commons leader, the senior
salaries review board (SSRB) is expected to call for a new “structure”
for the payment of expenses to ensure that the necessary safeguards are
This weekend John Baker, chairman of the SSRB, declined
to comment on his forthcoming recommendations. But he said: “We read
about them [abuses] with interest and ask ourselves whether the
structure of expenses is appropriate. We have received evidence on the
The row over the £87m annual expenses bill erupted last
month when MPs backed new legislation to exclude themselves from the
Freedom of Information Act. MPs are currently blocking attempts from
the information commissioner to force them to disclose full details of
their taxpayer-funded expenses.
Mark Hunter, a Liberal Democrat
MP opposed to the new legislation, said: “It is public money and it
should be accounted for. I don’t believe MPs ought to be exempt under
freedom of information and I thought the vote was a shameful day. This
is precisely the sort of thing that gives MPs a bad name.”
can spend up to £21,634 on the cost of maintaining a second home,
either in London or in his or her constituency. This money can be used
to pay almost all costs associated with running the home including
furnishings, groceries, mortgage, utility bills and council tax.
further £20,000 a year is available for paying the costs involved in
running an office. Plasma screens, iPods and fish tanks could come out
of either of these allowances. MPs can pick up a staffing allowance of
up to £84,081 a year as well.
Last week The Sunday Times revealed
that Derek Conway, a senior Conservative MP, paid his wife Colette
£3,271 a month and his son Frederick £981. Frederick is a full-time
geography student at Newcastle University.
Several other MPs also
employ family members, including David Cameron, the Tory leader, who
has appointed his wife’s sister, Alice Sheffield, as his correspondence
secretary.Daily Mail 9th. June 2007
MPs take wives on mini-breaks to the sun...and taxpayer foots bill
MPs are enjoying taxpayer-funded "mini-breaks" to
European capitals accompanied by their spouses in an extraordinary Commons
The Mail on Sunday can today reveal how politicians exploit a loophole that
allows them to take foreign excursions anywhere in the European Union – and
then claim back the costs from Westminster authorities.
Using an obscure rule introduced in the late Nineties, MPs are allowed to
make up to three trips each year to mainland Europe to learn about the inner
workings of the EU.
Many MPs would take a real interest in visiting the sunny island of Malta on
But the system is now open to widespread abuse, as politicians use official
meetings lasting only a few minutes to justify the cost and reason behind their
Two former MPs have now blown the whistle on the abuse, where MPs are
reimbursed for club-class return air fares and "subsistence" costs of
up to £200 a day.
One ex-Labour backbencher, who asked not be named, said: "It was normal
practice. I went to Cyprus and of course everyone went to Malta to chase the
A second retired member, who quit at the last Election, said: "I am sad
to say a sensible provision introduced to help us learn more about European
politics was hijacked by 'junketeers'."
MPs themselves cynically dubbed the trips "Euro-jaunts", he added.
The revelation will fuel the growing row over Commons expenses, sparked by
the introduction of a new bill to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information
Should the controversial legislation be approved, the public will no longer
have the right to know the details of politicians' pay and allowances.
The latest disclosure centres around a little-known perk allowing MPs up to
three visits a year to 'EU institutions' or national parliaments in European
They were the brainchild of the late Robin Cook, who as Foreign Secretary
hoped to encourage MPs to take a greater interest in the EU.
And there were claims this travel benefit has been subject to widespread
abuse. As the former Labour backbencher explained: "The aim was to get the
business part over with as quickly as possible and then get on with the
"First I would decide where I wanted to go. I could choose any EU
capital or any capital of a country applying to join the EU or a member of the
European Free Trade Association.
"Then I would get in touch with the relevant British Embassy overseas.
"An official would always be happy to sort things out. Sometimes one
could get away with a single meeting lasting just ten minutes.
"I would buy a club-class ticket and claim it back on expenses. I would
have to pay for my spouse's ticket. But they would usually get an upgrade from
economy so we could sit together.
"On my return I would also put in a claim for subsistence, which was
normally £150 to £200 a day. There was never any need to produce
The second former MP recalled: "We went to Malta one February in search
of warmth and it was the coldest winter in 50 years. We met the High
Commissioner for an hour or so but that was it.
"A particular high spot was four days in Cyprus when the briefing
consisted of a ten-minute phone call with a High Commission official and no
meetings at all. In Bucharest in Romania a winery tour was arranged."
But one current MP defended the European travel perk. "There is no
doubt it can be abused by a minority.
"But most of us use it sparingly to investigate issues we are genuinely
interested in," the MP added.
The Commons authorities refused to say how much money is paid out to MPs for
European trips. A spokesman said: "The House authorities are not prepared
to comment on how many Members are in receipt of this allowance nor whether
there have been refusals of claims."
The Sunday Times 27th. May 2007
MP hires son on expenses
A SENIOR Tory MP is paying his son to act as his parliamentary assistant even
though he is still a full-time undergraduate at university.
Commons records reveal that Frederick Conway was paid at the rate of £981 a
month from the parliamentary staffing allowance handed to his father Derek,
a former government whip.
Derek Conway’s wife, Colette, is also on the payroll and is paid £3,271 a
month as another of his registered parliamentary assistants, according to
the returns for November last year.
Conway, who ran the leadership campaign of David Davis, the shadow home
secretary, is the latest MP to stand accused of exploiting the expenses
awarded to parliamentarians.
As a registered parliamentary assistant he has a Commons pass and last summer
held his 21st birthday party on the House of Commons terrace overlooking the
Thames, attended by his parents and friends.
He has also played for the parliamentary rugby team.
Photographs of the events appear on his Facebook website. It is not known how
long he has worked for his father or in what capacity, although
parliamentary records show he had a Commons pass in 2005.
Derek Conway, 54, is one of the most senior Tory backbenchers. He was first
elected to parliament in 1983 and served as a junior minister before
becoming a whip under John Major’s premiership. He is regarded as a
parliamentary bruiser and has criticised the conduct of Labour cabinet
ministers, including John Prescott. He sits on the all-party Commons
administration committee that oversees the operation of the parliamentary
Conway, now MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in southeast London, has previously
attracted criticism over his expenses. In 2005-6, he claimed £4,072 for car
mileage, which can be claimed for journeys between home, Westminster and the
constituency, and for travel up to 20 miles outside of an MP’s seat on local
business. Conway’s claim would equate to about 1,000 trips between
Westminster and his constituency.
He also claims the full allowance for the costs of running a second home for
those who need a constituency and a central London base.
Yesterday, when asked about his son’s employment, he initially denied a
professional relationship. However, when confronted with details of the
payments he said: “It’s not something that I am going to be drawn into
talking about . . . I’m not talking about individuals and you must print
what you want to print. I am not going to comment.” Although the question
was put to him six times, he declined to respond further.
MPs receive a “staffing allowance” of more than £80,000 annually to pay
employees in their parliamentary and constituency offices. These staff are
entitled to full-time contracts, pension entitlements and other perks. The
rules stipulate that members of staff must be “employed to meet a genuine
need in supporting you, the member, in performing your parliamentary duties;
[be] able and (if necessary) qualified to do the job; [and] actually doing
The Sunday Times has established that several other MPs are also employing
family members as parliamentary staff. Malcolm Bruce, the LIberal Democrat
MP, pays his wife Rosemary £28,500 a year.
Sir Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, employs his wife Margaret for
£35,000 a year and Nick Ainger, Labour MP for Carmarthen West and South
Pembrokeshire, pays his wife Sally about £19,000 a year. They all confirmed
the arrangements and said they had complied with the rules.
Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, had to resign amid allegations that
he was paying his wife for parliamentary duties she did not perform. An
inquiry later ruled that she had carried out the work within the rules.
The latest disclosures come amid growing unease at attempts by MPs to exempt
themselves from Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. MPs disclose only total
expenditure claims – but are under pressure to reveal a breakdown of their
staffing, office and other expenses. After a battle, the Commons had to
publish a breakdown of travel allowances by car, train and flights. This
embarrassed Barry Gardiner, the environment minister, as it showed he had
claimed mileage allowances last year equivalent to driving his family car to
Delhi and back, even though he is a London MP with an official government
The information commissioner believes even more detailed information on every
claim met by the taxpayer should be published. A similar disclosure in
Scotland led to the resignation of David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory
leader, who could not account for £5,000 of “personal” taxi journeys.
A Whitehall review of parliamentary pay and allowances, which will report to
the prime minister next month, is expected to call for an end to the “gravy
train” of MPs’ expenses.
MPs can claim £250 “petty cash” a month without stipulating what the money is
for. A further £400 a month can be claimed for food without producing
receipts. In total, MPs can legitimately pick up £7,800 tax-free per annum
on trust because they are presumed to be “honour-able” members.
The Senior Salaries Review Board is conducting a review of parliamentary pay
and allowances which will report to the prime minister next month. It is
also understood to be analysing the system of claiming expenses.
One source said: “They are looking at the system itself and the reputational
impact that some of the current practices may have. However, there is a lot
of pressure from senior MPs on the board only to look at the level of pay
and not make recommendations on the detail.”
Ten days ago MPs caused uproar after voting in favour of a backbench bill
which would exclude them from FOI laws, apparently with the tacit support of
the government and the opposition front benches. The bill is now due to be
heard in the Lords.
Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both pledged to continue publishing
information about expenses. This is unlikely to include the detailed
breakdown being demanded and the information commissioner would have no
powers to force the release of the information.
What members are allowed
£84,081 To pay for employees’ pay, pensions and perks
Additional costs allowance
£21,634 To cover mortgage interest for a second property, utility bills,
grocery bills, council tax and insurance
Incidental expenses allowance
£20,000 To pay for office and surgery costs. MPs can also pick up £250 every
month in petty cash from this allowance