UK Politics

John Bercow: Speaker's entertainment bill revealed

John Bercow during the State Opening of Parliament Image copyright PA
Image caption Annual receptions after the State Opening of Parliament have cost thousands

Commons Speaker John Bercow has spent thousands of pounds on entertaining other MPs and foreign politicians since April 2012, including £1,600 on a lunch for his Lithuanian counterpart.

The Press Association has published details of expenditure from Mr Bercow's official House account, obtained under Freedom of Information rules.

It includes £1,023 for beeswax candles and £286 to tune a grand piano.

The Speaker's office said spending was 19% lower than under his predecessor.

Mr Bercow has been Speaker since 2009, when he replaced Michael Martin - who stepped down amid the Commons expenses scandal.

He is not subject to such stringent rules on expenses as other MPs, whose claims for food and drink are capped. MPs travelling outside their constituency on parliamentary business can claim £25 a day on food and drink, excluding alcohol.

Personal photographs

According to the Press Association, Mr Bercow spent £2,223.34 on a dinner for the "panel of chairs" - a group of MPs who chair public bill committees - in January 2010. In 2015, he spent £2,057 on a dinner to mark the retirement of former Deputy Speaker and Labour MP Dawn Primarolo.

Up to £7,400 has been charged to the taxpayer, since 2012, on annual receptions for members of Parliament following the State Opening of Parliament while £3,000 was spent on a reception for new MPs in July 2015.

Spending on functions for foreign parliamentarians are also recorded in the figures. A lunch for the Romanian Speaker in December 2012 cost £1,521.37 while a similar event for the Slovenian Speaker a year later cost £1,444.74.

A dinner in honour of the Australian Speaker in May 2014 cost £1,954.38.

Other miscellaneous items of spending included £286 on tuning the grand piano in Speaker's House which is "available for members to use upon request". Official postcard-size portrait photographs of the Speaker and senior officials taken at the State Opening of Parliament, which are available "on request", cost £307 to produce in November 2014 and £210 in December 2012.

An order for "hand-finished" beeswax candles was made in July 2012, to be used for official gatherings in the State Rooms.

'Long-established practice'

A spokeswoman for the Speaker's Office said they were not querying the figures but defended the outlay, saying every Speaker in modern times has hosted receptions for MPs after the State Opening and the cost of doing so had fallen by 77% since 2009.

She said it was "long-established practice" for the Speaker to pay for drinks ahead of the panel of chairs' annual dinner, which he did not routinely attend, while the Speaker was traditionally expected to host occasions for foreign dignitaries and to mark the departure of retiring and new MPs.

She said the Speaker was committed to cutting costs wherever possible and total spending by the Speaker's Office had fallen from £626,029 in 2009-10, the year in which he was elected, to £504,737 in 2014-15.

"These costs relate to nearly four years of expenditure including, among other things, staff pay, office supplies, telephone calls and rental as well as the official entertainment of foreign dignitaries and parliamentarians traditionally provided by the Speaker's Office," she said.

The Press Association said the Commons was unable to supply any information prior to April 2012 since it had been "destroyed in accordance with the parliamentary records disposal policy".

Pressure group the Taxpayers Alliance said no-one "begrudged" the Speaker for footing the bill for official functions he was responsible for hosting and it was encouraging that overall spending by his office had fallen.

But it said all spending by the Speaker's office should be made public as a matter of course so it could be subject to "proper scrutiny".

Details of Mr Bercow's travel expenses are published every year. Between April 2014 and April 2015, he claimed more than £31,000 in travel and accommodation expenses, figure published last July showed.

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