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Parliament today finally released a breakdown of travel expenses for each one of the UK’s 646 MPs.
The disclosure under the freedom of information act (FOIA) came after the house of commons lost an appeal against a decision that it must disclose travel expenses claimed by each MP broken down by car, rail, air and even bicycle.
And the figures show a wide variety of claims by MPs, not all of which can be explained by the different locations of their constituencies. Local newspapers throughout the UK were today scrutinising the disclosures for any signs of possibly excessive claims by any MPs in their areas.
The scrutiny is bound to increase pressure on MPs to limit their future claims. Many of them point out that the principle of their being allowed to claim travel expenses is aimed at ensuring that not only wealthy people are able to be MPs.
The commons had unsuccessfully appealed to the information tribunal against a decision in favour of disclosure by the UK FOIA regulator, the information commissioner.
Parliament decided against making a further appeal to the high court on a point of law, and instead finally released the data for each of the last five years.
Requests for the details were made by Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, journalists and the FOIA Centre. Although two years has passed since the information was first requested, the overturning of the initial refusal to disclose – on the basis that it was subject to the personal information exemption – marks a significant success for FOIA.
Baker, who has become the subject of sniping by fellow MPs, described it as an “important victory” in the battle to make parliament more accountable, saying that he hoped it would put pressure on MPs to spend less, and travel in ways that are better for the environment.
MPs received average travel expenses of just under £8,000 in the financial year to last March, totalling around £5m. Each receives an MP’s salary of just under £60,000 a year and claims another £123,000 in expenses, including payments for researchers or personal assistants.
Among MPs’ travel claims last year, Janet Anderson (Labour, Rossendale & Darwen) – a former minister in the department of culture, media and sport – claimed £16,612 for car mileage – and £22,845 the previous year.
Diane Abbott (Labour, Hackney North & Stoke Newington) received £2,235 for taxis/car hire even though her East London constituency is only five miles from Westminster. The previous year, she claimed £4,064.
Some MPs claimed no travel expenses at all last year, including: Margaret Becket (Derby South), foreign secretary; Stephen Timms (East Ham), chief secretary to the treasury; Tony McNulty (Harrow East), a home office minister; Margaret Hodge (Barking), a trade minister; Nick Raynsford (Greenwich & Woolwich), former local government minister; Glenda Jackson (Labour, Hampstead & Highgate); and Susan Kramer (Richmond Park), Liberal Democrat trade spokeswoman.
Tony Blair claimed £202 for mileage, probably around his Sedgefield constituency, and nothing for flights, trains or taxis.
David Cameron, Conservative leader and MP for Witney, claimed £1,094 for taxis/car hire, £295 for air travel, £224 for rail, nothing for his infamous bicycle but £210 for mileage, perhaps including the miles covered carrying his files while he attempted to boost his environmental credentials by cycling to work.
Cameron's office said that his claim was increased by the cost of using a hire car, after his own was stolen in 2005.
Jeremy Corbyn (Labour, Islington North), unlike Cameron, received £230 cycling expenses, which can be claimed at 20p per mile, sharply up from 7.2p per mile two years previous.
The parliamentary rules allow MPs to claim for travel between their main home, constituency and Westminster, plus within their constituency and within 20 miles around it. If using their own car, they can claim 40p per mile for up to 10,000 miles a year and, thereafter, 25p per mile. These rates have dropped from 57.7p and 26.6p respectively the previous year.
This means that the £16,612 mileage claim of Anderson, who represents a large constituency, covers more than 60,000 miles.
It also means that Ian Pearson (Dudley South), the minister at the department of environment, food and rural affairs who has specific responsibility for climate change, who claimed £4,814 in mileage, drove a less than environmentally friendly 13,256 miles. He also claimed £280 for rail, but nothing for flights.
The Liberal Democrats' leader, Sir Menzies Campbell, whose constituency is in North East Fife, claimed £9,267 for air travel, £3,395 for mileage and £787 for train fares.
Gordon Brown, the chancellor, who doubled air passenger duty this month, claimed £6,953 for flights, no doubt boosted by the fact that his constituency is in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath. He also claimed £478 for rail travel and £178 for mileage.
Richard Bacon (Conservative, South Norfolk) disputed the figures after he was shown to have claimed £5,685 for taxis/car hire. He said that he would challenge the house authorities over the issue: “I have not claimed £5,685 for taxis, or anything near this figure.
“My estimate is that I have spent a few hundred pounds on taxis over the last six years since I was first elected. Nor have I hired a car in the last 12 months.
“The figures also state, wrongly, that I have claim-ed no petrol allowance for mileage, which I certainly have done.”
“I am strongly in favour of transparency in these areas. As a member of the commons public accounts committee, I think taxpayers have the right to know how their money is used," he continued.
“I applaud Norman Baker's efforts to secure great-er disclosure. I would also like any published figures to be accurate.”
Eric Joyce (Labour, Falkirk) also queried the figures. He suggested that the data, showing that he had the biggest claim at £44,984 including £30,578 for air travel, were not “feasible”. According to the figures, he also claimed £30,704 including £17,532 air travel the previous year, £39,116 including £25,778 air travel in 2003-04, £39,999 including £26,405 air travel in 2002-03, and £28,165 including £16,428 air travel in 2001-02.
A Commons spokesman said that MPs were shown the figures in September and invited to correct inaccuracies, pending their possible publication.
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Parliament loses appeal over MPs’ travel exes
Commons told to release MPs’ travel expenses