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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 October, 2004, 20:20 GMT 21:20 UK
MPs' expense accounts laid bare
Palace of Westminster
The House of Commons opens up MP expense claims to scrutiny.
MPs claim an average of 118,000 each a year from the public purse to cover travel expenses, and to run their offices and second homes.

Details of the expense claims for the 659 MPs were made public for the first time on Thursday on a web site.

They are paid a 57,000 salary and can claim twice as much again for expenses.

Sir Archy Kirkwood MP, for the House of Commons Commission, said: "This is a significant step towards openness and accountability and I welcome it."

He added: "It's the first time that we have ever published so much information. The taxpayer can really see how their money is being spent."

Travel costs

SEE WHAT EACH MP SPENT

Most computers will open PDF documents automatically, but you may need to download Adobe Acrobat Reader.

MPs are supposed to provide receipts for all claims of more than 250. This is the first time that detailed breakdowns have been made available to the public.

Expenses claims are also made for travel at home and abroad at a rate of 57p a mile for cars or for first-class rail fares.

Their publication comes ahead of changes to the Freedom of Information Act in January.

One of the highest claims in the year to March 2004 was from Falkirk MP Eric Joyce, who racked up expenses totalling 140,000.

That was nearly double the figure claimed by Bolsover MP Dennis Skinner, with 71,000.

HAVE YOUR SAY
Tell us your views on what MPs can and do claim

Pay and conditions

Prime Minister Tony Blair ran up a total expenses bill of 80,836 over the same period, on top of his 178,922-a-year salary.

More than half of Mr Blair's expenses claim - some 58,334 - went on staff costs.

His official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's expenses have been approved by the (House of Commons) Fees Office and all are within the House of Commons rules."

PARTY LEADERS' CLAIMS - 2001/2 and 2002/3
Tony Blair 67,131, 80,517
Michael Howard 63,678, 79,930
Charles Kennedy 93,108 , 118,066

On top of the standard backbench salary, a junior minister gets 22,688. A Cabinet minister receives another 72,862, and the Prime Minister gets an extra 121,437.

MPs also get a pension of up to 1/40th of their final salary for each year they pay in - twice as much as many schemes.

An MP can retire on 28,742 a year after 20 years in the Commons. They also receive a pay-off of up to 57,485 if they are defeated at a general election.

Chancellor Gordon Brown registered one of the biggest claims last year, with 130,000 in expenses doubling his salary, while deputy prime minister John Prescott claimed 107,299, and Peter Mandelson collected 98,898.

Claims by prominent Tories included 104,222 for former leader Iain Duncan Smith, 129,075 for William Hague.

There were also claims from Sinn Fein MPs, with West Belfast MP Gerry Adams receiving 109,315 in expenses, and 110,653 for Martin McGuinness, although none of the party's four MPs sit in Parliament.

'3p each a year'

Labour MP Stephen Pound, whose expenses in the last financial year totalled 111,000 said the money was used to pay for staff and equipment, not to fund luxurious lifestyles.

WHAT THEY CAN CLAIM
Second home - up to 20,333
Office space - up to 18,799
Staff costs - up to 72,310
Plus stationery and travel costs

He said his expenses equated to 3p each year for each of his constitutents in Ealing North, and paid for the replies to the 600 letters he receives each week.

Mr Pound said: "This is not about filling our boots. This is not about trousering a lot of money. This is about the money it takes to do the job."

He said of his 5,000 annual stationery expenses, higher than the average: "It is case of service to constituents. I don't write letters for the sake of writing letters."

Britain's biggest union, Unison, questioned the amount claimed by some MPs.

A spokeswoman said: "We don't want to go back to the days when MPs were tempted to have second jobs.

Voter power

"But some of these expenses do seem excessive, particularly when we have other public sector workers who are on very low wages and don't get much help with housing.

Former MP Martin Bell said MPs should brace themselves for a backlash, and he criticised ministers who have "grace and favour" homes, and still claim for accommodation in London.

Mr Bell said: "We never knew with our MPs whether we were getting value for money. Now we do know and the answer lies, as it has to, at a general election with the voters.

"They can look at these things and they can vote the crooks out and keep the honest ones."




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
How MPs spend millions in expenses every year



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