Sir Alan Beith comes clean on laundry expenses

THE North MP who wants to clear up British politics has charged taxpayers thousands of pounds for cleaning his second home and laundry.

Sir Alan Beith

THE North MP who wants to clear up British politics has charged taxpayers thousands of pounds for cleaning his second home and laundry.

Berwick's Sir Alan Beith has put himself forward to become the new Commons Speaker and MPs will elect the position next week.

The Journal can now reveal that the Liberal Democrat MP claimed £7,115 for the cost of cleaning his London home between 2004-05 and 2007-08.

He spent more than £1,700 on cleaning annually, according to details of his expense claims released by the Commons.

And the senior Lib Dem spent £1,086.30 on laundry over the same period. His annual bills were between £240.50 and £325.80, according to his expense claims.

The documents also show Sir Alan charged a new £349.99 television to taxpayers, along with £775 for kitchen equipment and £4,700.65 for a refurbishment of his kitchen.

He also claimed for a television licence in August and September 2007, but repaid the money as soon as he realised his mistake.

Sir Alan's office expenses also appear to show he paid his own regional party £3,000 a year in support of Parliamentary duties.

Another £2,544.91 invoice from the Parliamentary Office of the Liberal Democrats (POLD), dated January 25 2006, set out the bill for support for Sir Alan.

There was £312.05 for pagers, £186.98 for "away days", £374.13 in constituency management support, £429.31 for a daily digest, IT support costing £161.29 and £1,081.15 in research briefings.

Due to sections being blacked out, it is unclear whether the full amount was paid – although the figure of 1,039.60 was circled in the corner of the document.

But Sir Alan was charged £80 for two adverts about constituency surgeries in Lib Dem publications in March 2005.

And his research assistant attended the 2006 party conference, claiming two-thirds of the cost, because she was carrying out constituency work.

Referring to his cleaning and laundry bill, Sir Alan said: "What I don't do is carry laundry back and forward between London and Northumberland so I get laundry done.

"We have our main home in Northumberland and we do all our laundry and cleaning there. But in London I have my flat serviced and I pay the cleaner more than the minimum wage.

"And those I regard as appropriate and necessary costs of running a second home in London."

He said his party's Parliamentary office was paid money for research briefings in support of Parliamentary and constituency duties.

One member of staff usually spent some time at the annual party conference because of constituency duties, he said.

And the £3,000 annual payment to his regional party was for a staff member who worked in his office for a couple of years, he said.

Asked if it was a way of channeling taxpayers’ money into the Lib Dems, he said: "I wouldn't allow the money to be used if it wasn't providing me with a service that was necessary to Parliamentary and constituency duties."

But he no longer pays for adverts in Lib Dem publications.

Sir Alan previously explained he had rented accommodation in the same block of flats for 30 years but that the 1960s kitchen, along with second-hand appliances, needed changing.

Page 3 - The candidates for Speaker of the Commons >>

The candidates for Speaker of the Commons

These are the 10 MPs hoping to be elected the next Speaker of the Commons in tomorrow’s secret ballot, together with their odds according to Ladbrokes.

The former foreign secretary, 66, is the only candidate to have held one of the great offices of state. She bore the brunt of angry audience heckling on BBC1’s Question Time in the wake of the expenses scandal. Nevertheless, her long experience as a minister and reputation as a safe pair of hands makes her the favourite.

The 46-year-old has been seen as a preferred candidate of many Labour MPs who recognise it is time for a Tory Speaker after two in succession from their party. Suspected by some Tories of being too close to Labour, the Buckingham MP’s candidacy is opposed by many on his own benches.

The 67-year-old former Tory transport secretary stood for the Speaker’s job in 2000. Liked and respected, but possibly seen as being too much a part of the establishment.

The former Liberal Democrat deputy leader, he was the first candidate to put his name forward after Michael Martin announced his resignation. Will have to attract a lot of support from outside his own party.

Probably the candidate best known to the public, the plain-speaking former hardline shadow home secretary has appeared on programmes including Celebrity Fit Club and Have I Got News For You. The 61-year-old has declared she will step down at the next election, meaning she can be no more than an interim Speaker.

A deputy speaker since 1997, Sir Alan’s experience and sure touch might in any other year have made him an automatic choice for Speaker. But he too has been damaged by expenses claims.

An MP since 1970 and one of the grandest examples of the old-school Tory in Westminster. Respected for his long service and his love of the Commons, he may be seen as too tied to the old ways to be an effective reformer.

At 37, the Labour MP for Gloucester is the youngest candidate in the race. Would be the first ethnic minority Speaker, if elected. Has impressed – but will probably make an early exit.

One of Westminster’s most prominent Eurosceptics, seen by some as too emotional to cope with the pressures of the job.

A deputy speaker since 1997. Likely to lose votes to Young and Haselhurst.

Page 4 - Tension and drama in the corridors of power >>

Tension and drama in the corridors of power

Q Who can stand as a candidate for Speaker?

A Any MP can put themselves forward once nominations open at 9.30am. They will need to secure the backing of 12-15 other MPs including at least three members of a party other than their own.

Q What will happen in the Commons today?

A The Commons authorities expect to publish a list of candidates with the required level of backing at around 11am. They will then get the chance to make their case to MPs when the House sits at 2.30pm.

Q Who runs the proceedings given that the Speaker has quit?

A The Father of the House - the longest serving MP - Alan Williams will preside.

Q What happens when the House of Commons sits?

A Each candidate will be given the chance to explain why they should be elected. Then the voting begins, using a procedure known as "exhaustive secret ballot". MPs put a cross next to their chosen candidate on a voting slip, which is then placed in a sealed ballot box. After half an hour the polls close, the boxes are opened and counting begins.

To be elected, a candidate must secure 50% of the vote. If the first ballot does not produce a clear winner then the candidate with the fewest votes, and any with less than 5% of the vote, are eliminated.

Voting continues - through as many rounds as necessary - until someone reaches the 50% mark. When the winner is announced he or she will then be "dragged" to the chair with a show of reluctance, as is traditional.

Q With transparency and openness being political buzzwords, why is the election secret?

A If the new Speaker does not know who voted for - or against - them, they will not face allegations of bias in the way they treat MPs.


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