Our MPs speak out over their living expenses

LOCAL MPs have claimed up to £400 a month for food at taxpayers' expense.

Three of the four quizzed by the Lancaster Guardian – excluding Lancaster and Wyre MP Ben Wallace - admitted to claiming for food during 2008/09.

Geraldine Smith, MP for Morecambe and Lunesdale, estimated she claimed between 100 and 400 a month, but said that did not cover her total food spend.

She said the claims helped cover the costs of feeding guests in London, meals at the Parliamentary canteen and groceries from a shop near her London flat.

Westmorland and Lonsdale MP, Tim Farron – the only member able to provide actual figures – claimed 2,355 in nine months.

Mr Farron estimated that three-quarters of that amount was spent on providing for guests in London with the remainder for staff.

David Curry, MP for Skipton and Ripon, the constituency covering Settle and Bentham, estimated that he claimed up to 70 a month.

He said that was mainly for takeaways including pizzas and fish and chips but that it could also include supermarket items like pork pies and loo rolls.

The claims were made under the controversial second home allowance, which has sparked public anger nationally after claims including repairs to a moat, for a massage chair, and even for interest on paid-off mortgages were revealed.

Until April, MPs were able to claim up to 400 a month for subsistence – with no receipts necessary – but new guidelines stipulate a maximum of 25 a day.

Susie Squire, of the Tax Payers Alliance campaign group said she believed the rules were 'wrong' in allowing MPs to claim for groceries.

Local MPs denied any wrongdoing but agreed that reforms proposed this week were needed.

Miss Smith, who received a positive reception when she spoke to the Lancaster Loyne Rotary Club about expenses on Tuesday, said: "I have no problem claiming for food - when I worked at the Royal Mail you could claim subsistence if you were away from home – it is more expensive.

MPs eat out a lot. When you're away all week you are tired and you do not feel like going home and cooking if you finish at 8pm on a Wednesday."

Miss Smith's 21,657.09 second home claim includes the mortgage interest on her flat plus bills.

She had not claimed for furniture but had done so for smaller items like bedding and light fittings.

Mr Farron, who also claims the rent on a London flat plus bills totalling 18,916 for the first nine months of the year, said: "An amount of 25 a night is relatively normal for any business when you're away – but at the moment I don't think the public would accept anything."

Mr Curry, who treats his Masham constituency house as his second home, said: "I often buy food on the hoof because I have a large constituency and I work very hard – these are 16 hour days."

His 10,755 claim also includes bills and 5,555 for redecorating after work to damp-proof his cottage, which was covered by insurance.

Mr Wallace, who claimed the full 24,006 second home allowance, covering mortgage interest and bills, said he didn't feel it was 'appropriate' to claim for food. "I would find it odd to pay for Sainsbury's shopping through the taxpayer," he said.

His other claims included 333 for plumbing, 253 for new locks and 200 for a fridge.

Mr Wallace said he had received several e-mails and phone calls from constituents, including one from an angry caller who believed the cash was for his personal use rather than expenses.