Page last updated at 16:40 GMT, Sunday, 23 August 2009 17:40 UK

MPs face 'extra costs' - Beckett

Margaret Beckett
Margaret Beckett wants careful consideration of any expense reforms

Members of Parliament face costs that are not incurred by people "in other walks of life", former minister Margaret Beckett has said.

Mrs Beckett, Labour MP for Derby North, made her comments in a letter to Sir Christopher Kelly, the man conducting a review into MPs' expenses.

She said she wanted to ensure his committee "fully understood how the current expenses system works".

She said that people were often not aware of the extra costs MPs faced.

Mrs Beckett wrote: "Political campaigns, by-elections, public functions or conferences, prizes, sponsorships and donations incur costs, not just in hundreds but probably totalling thousands of pounds, from the MP's own pocket.

"The effect of a number of the ideas which have been proposed could be to require even greater sacrifice of families and family life - a sacrifice fewer people may, in time, feel able or prepared to make.

"The words baby and bathwater spring to mind."

Mrs Beckett, who is a former foreign secretary, told the BBC there were "two principal reasons" for sending the letter.

She said: "Firstly, I've been an MP on and off for 35 years.

I'm a lot better off then a lot of my colleagues, who might be more cautious and feel more inhibited about speaking up
Margaret Beckett

"Secondly, I wanted to raise a number of questions, because I was concerned that the committee fully understood how the current system works.

"I thought, before they make recommendations they should at least be as aware of the facts as they could be, and the implications of how the system works."

Mrs Beckett claimed second home allowances of £72,537 from 2004 to 2008, despite having no mortgage or rent to pay on her constituency home in Derby.

As environment secretary and foreign secretary, Mrs Beckett was living at the grace and favour Admiralty House in Whitehall, which enabled her to rent out her London flat.

She said at the time that grace and favour homes were not rent free as they were taxed as a benefit in kind.

Mrs Beckett said she was "extremely mindful of the fact that I am very fortunate".

"I'm a lot better off then a lot of my colleagues, who might be more cautious and feel more inhibited about speaking up.

"I had a house in London before I became an MP, I don't have children and don't have to make the adjustments that MPs with families have to.

"I thought it would be a good thing for someone in that position to point out problems facing MPs to the committee."

'Sacrifice of MPs'

Mrs Beckett also said that she had not expressed a view on what Sir Christopher's committee should recommend.

"But they should have as clear an understanding as possible of what implications there could be of their decision, particularly for people who don't live in London and who have children," she said.

"I say yes, we need to look at a better system. But we need to have as much fact available as possible to those making the proposals.

"A lot of the comment made about whether or not MPs should have any support at all with the costs of a second home don't compare like with like.

"They make assumptions on what people can afford. But people in similar positions, on similar rates of pay, do not face these costs."

She also spoke of the "sacrifice" MPs had to make upon taking up their role in Parliament.

"If you want to be an MP you have to sacrifice yourself and your family to a much greater extent. But people are not aware that as an MP there are all sorts of costs involved.

"There's a level of demand for MPs to make costs that in other walks of life they don't have to meet.

"I don't, and MPs don't complain about it, but it's a factor in what they can afford."

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