Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Friday, 29 May 2009 17:20 UK

MPs' golden goodbyes

By Ross Hawkins
Political correspondent, BBC News

Getting rid of politicians can be a surprisingly expensive and tricky business.

Taxi sign at Westminster
MPs rarely see the other side of this sign

Departing MPs get a special allowance to help them adjust to "non-Parliamentary" life - but only if they leave at a general election.

If they resign immediately and force a by-election they lose out.

Which is why, presumably, the ones who have announced their retirement are in no hurry to pack up their possessions and head for the exits, and plan to serve out their time until polling day.

That and the fact that the party leaders are in no mood for by-elections in the current volatile climate.


There appears to be growing cross-party support for allowing the "recall" of underperforming or badly-behaved MPs.

But as things stand, MPs can not be forced out by their constituents until the next election.

Even if they are expelled from their party they can continue to sit as independents, as a growing number do.

Ben Chapman: £36,269
Derek Conway: £64,766
Christopher Fraser: £32,383
Douglas Hogg: £59,585
Julie Kirkbride: £32,383
Andrew MacKay: £64,766
Ian McCartney: £64,766
Margaret Moran: £54, 403
Anthony Steen: £32,383
Peter Viggers: £32,383
Ann Winterton: £38, 860
Nicholas Winterton: £32,383
Source: BBC estimates for resettlement grants, based on length of service and age

They can only be expelled by the Commons authorities if they are declared bankrupt or have been convicted of a serious crime.

MPs can vote to expel another member of the Commons if they have not committed a crime but are judged to have acted "dishonourably" but this has not happened since 1947, when Garry Allighan, the Labour MP for Gravesend, was ejected after passing stories about other MPs to the newspapers.

The amount retiring MPs receive depends on how old they are and how long they have served in the House.

Conservative Douglas Hogg - who famously claimed for clearing his moat - can expect almost £60,000. Labour MP Margaret Moran who charged £22,500 to the taxpayer for dry rot treatment will get more than £54,000.

The Conservative couple, Julie Kirkbride and Andrew Mackay - both forced out by the expenses story - can look forward to over £97,000 between them.

The first £30,000 is tax free.

Whenever they go, MPs also receive final-salary pensions which cost the taxpayer around £12m a year. The three main parties at Westminster have all suggested that needs reform.

There is also up to £42,000 on offer to pay for winding up staff contracts and office rent.

In ordinary jobs, staff get redundancy payments and pensions. They also avoid facing voters at an election and the prospect of a career-ending defeat every few years.

But with a series of MPs promising to step down not immediately, but at the next general election, those five-figure resettlement payouts have come under fresh scrutiny.

The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg thinks they should be scrapped. He said: "I can see no reason why an MP who is sacked or decides to stand down should be rewarded with a big, tax-free, lump sum payment."

Campaigners fighting to get their MPs to resign immediately - and spare taxpayers the cost of the resettlement grant - would not necessarily save money though.

David Monks, who speaks for returning officers, the local officials who preside over electoral contests, said by-elections can cost between £90,000 and £100,000.

All this talk of life after Parliament is likely to make some politicians nervous. They know there will be a glut of former MPs on the job market after the next general election.

Some 75 have said they will not fight to hold on to their seats, with more than twice as many Labour MPs as Conservatives among their number.

Many of them made that decision long before the expenses story broke; there are reasons other than scandal to encourage people to leave Westminster.

But those not planning to live off their pensions - and others who are defeated at the ballot box - will soon learn the market value of an ex-MP.

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