[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Friday, 22 October, 2004, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Most expensive MP defends record
Claire Curtis-Thomas
Ms Curtis-Thomas says voters should be able to see the figures
The MP who claimed more expenses than anybody else in Parliament last year has said the figures prove she is doing her job properly.

Merseyside MP Claire Curtis-Thomas topped the first published list of expense claims paid out in 2003-4 with her total of 168,889.

On Friday, the Labour MP said she was pleased the public could see the list.

"It is an irony that the MP who spends more will be working hardest for their constituents," she said.

"I ensure that I fully represent the community I have been elected by and therefore require high operating costs.

"I always have and will continue to work the hardest I can for my constituents."

'More work'

The expenses claims for all MPs totalled 78m - some 20m higher than two years ago.

Each MP claimed an average of 118,437 each, on top of their basic salary of 57,000.

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 72,000 in staff costs.

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

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

The figures have been released for the first time now because they will become available when the Freedom of Information Act comes into force next year.

The payments were defended by Sir Archy Kirkwood MP, from the House of Commons Commission, who said MPs faced greater workloads than ever before.

"They now deal with issues, and communicate in ways unheard of a few years ago," he said.

"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."

SEE WHAT EACH MP SPENT

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

Tony Blair's claim was published at 80,836, the cheapest MP being Stephen McCabe in Birmingham, at 70,519.

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.

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.

Backlash?

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

A spokesman said: "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."

And 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.

But former Conservative MP and journalist, Michael Brown, says the money spent overall is reasonable, costing every voter about 3 a year.

Labour MP David Winnick, who claimed 75,000, said MPs should submit their tax returns to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner for checks - as happens in America.

He suggested the Freedom of Information Act would mean BBC journalists would have to reveal their expenses claims and he argued newspaper editors should follow suit.




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



SEE ALSO:
MPs defend 78m expenses claims
22 Oct 04  |  Politics
MPs scrutiny over expenses: Your views
21 Oct 04  |  Have Your Say
MPs 'slammed over football trip'
12 Jun 04  |  Politics


RELATED BBC LINKS:

RELATED INTERNET LINKS:
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


PRODUCTS AND SERVICES

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific