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Last Updated: Friday, 22 October, 2004, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
MPs defend 78m expenses claims
Palace of Westminster
The House of Commons opens up MP expense claims to scrutiny.
MPs have defended claiming a total of 78 million in expenses last year, saying the money is vital to allow them to do their jobs properly.

Figures released on Thursday showed MPs claimed an average of 118,437 each, on top of their basic salary of 57,000.

Sir Archy Kirkwood MP, from the House of Commons Commission, said MPs faced greater workloads than ever before.

Labour's Peter Pike, whose claim was among the highest, dismissed the figures as "misleading nonsense".

Members are ... working under an ever-increasing load and more complex environment
Sir Archy Kirkwood MP
House of Commons Commission

"There are so many factors that you have to take into account. I do not think people are comparing like for like," said Mr Pike, who claimed 153,989.

"I genuinely believe you have got to look at what MPs do, where they live and what their staff implications are. You cannot just look at them off the peg."

He said the figures could be misleading and were "a total nonsense".


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High workload

The House of Commons Commission approved publication of the figures, which also show expenses claims have risen by more than 20 million in two years.

Commission spokesman Sir Archy, a Liberal Democrats MP, said: "Members are like 659 individual small businesses, working under an ever-increasing load and more complex environment.

"They now deal with issues, and communicate in ways unheard of a few years ago. They require more back-up staff, more computer resources, and more allowances to enable them to travel back and forth to Parliament, living away from home for days at a time, while keeping in touch with the problems and issues of their constituents."

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

MPs are entitled to claim 20,000 on a second home if they live outside London, the same amount for office costs and up to 77,000 in staff costs.

When those expenses are taken into account, the average backbencher receives 175,000 a year.


An increase in expenses allowances has also been recommended so that MPs can pay their staff more.

The news that Tony Blair had claimed 43,000 over three years for his constituency home made headlines in some newspapers.

But 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."

Tell us your views on what MPs can and do claim

Mr Blair claimed 80,517 worth of expenses last year, Conservatives leader Michael Howard claimed 79,930, while Lib Dems leader Charles Kennedy claimed 118,066.

Backbench Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh claimed 31,845 for postage expenses last year, while each of the four Sinn Fein MPs claimed in excess of 100,000 even though they are yet to take up their seats at Westminster.

An MP can retire with a 28,742 annual pension 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.

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

With the national average wage just over 20,000, Britain's biggest union called on MPs to tighten their belts.

How MPs spend millions in expenses every year

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