Reform our expenses now, says Suffolk MP

A SUFFOLK MP tonight called for urgent reform to the system of claiming expenses and allowances at the House of Commons.

Graham Dines

A SUFFOLK MP tonight called for urgent reform to the system of claiming expenses and allowances at the House of Commons.

Richard Spring spoke out as details emerged of MPs claims, which showed a difference of nearly �40,000 between the region's top claimant and the bottom one.

However, Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole blamed the media for misrepresenting details of the expenses and Liberal Democrat Bob Russell (Colchester) said: “My conscience is clear.”

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Members of the House of Commons are entitled to claim mileage on constituency work, train fares for themselves and families, a second home allowance either in London or their constituency, postage, researchers, secretaries, and IT support.

The latest row over questionable expenses arose after the Home Secretary Jacqui Smith claimed her second home was a bedroom in her sister's London house, and put in a bill for “adult movies” watched by her husband in the constituency.

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Following the intervention of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which had originally said its recommendations for reform of the system would come after the next general election, said it would report before Christmas.

In this region, MPs claiming more than �150,000 in the financial year 2007-08 were Bob Blizzard (Labour, Waveney) and Tory MPs Douglas Carswell (Harwich) and Tim Yeo (Suffolk South) while three claimed less than �120,000 - Tory MPs John Whittingdale (Maldon and Chelmsford East), Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) and John Gummer (Suffolk Coastal).

A wide variation in the claims is published by the Commons authorities. For example, the region has two MPs whose constituencies are wholly urban - Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat, Colchester), who claimed �2,309 in mileage costs while Labour's Chris Mole in Ipswich did not charge anything.

For a second home, Mr Russell “only” billed the taxpayer �10,963 because he shares a flat with another MP, with other members putting in claims for the maximum amount of �23,083.

Mr Mole had one of the highest postage bills of any MP at �5,255, while Braintree's Brooks Newmark put in a bill for �816. Mr Russell claimed �3,032 and Bernard Jenkin (Essex North) �1,160.

Travelodge, the budget hotel chain, has written to the Speaker of the House Commons saying it would be more than �7,600 cheaper for individual MPs to take rooms at its Southwark property - two underground stops from Westminster - than claiming the second home allowance.

Suffolk West MP Richard Spring supported the Prime Minister's call for urgent reform of the expenses and allowances system. “A Suffolk MP needs a property in Suffolk. We also have to live in London - commuting is out of the question. Yesterday I had a meeting at 8.30am in the House and didn't leave until after 10.30pm.

“We have to have a wholly transparent system because quite frankly the public finds the current set-up deeply offensive. They don't understand what we have to fund ourselves - I should not have to pay for secretarial help and IT costs, these should be the responsibility of the Commons.”

Mr Russell issued a media statement in which he claimed “Russell costs you less than other MPs,” based on his lower London housing costs, although his total claims were higher than other Essex colleagues.

“I do not lead a lavish life,” said Mr Russell. “I share a modest flat with another MP, and between us our combined costs are still less than the maximum which many MPs are claiming.”

He called for the parliamentary authorities to provide accommodation for MPs. “It would work out a lot cheaper and if MPs wanted something more, they should not expect the public purse to foot the bill.”

Chris Mole hit out at the media. “Whatever system of expenses we have, there are elements in the media who will misrepresent it, which is deeply offensive for the vast majority of my colleagues who put in modest claims.

“My postage bill is high because I am an active MP who deals with a vast postbag from worried constituents.”

Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive at the TaxPayers' Alliance said: “Any MP within normal commuting distance should not have a second home. Many taxpayers have to travel in and out of London every day, and manage to do their job effectively. It is mystifying that some MPs think they should be insulated from the reality of working life.”

KEEPING IN TOUCH: Richard Spring's newsletter to constituents is funded out of his �11,013 communications allowance claim

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