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Speaker splashed out tens of thousands on dinners, lunches and receptions

Commons Speaker John Bercow has spent thousands of pounds wining and dining fellow MPs - including more than £2,000 on a "standing down" dinner for his former deputy.

Taxpayers' money has been used to lay on a range of dinners, lunches and receptions for colleagues of Mr Bercow.

Foreign counterparts have been treated to hospitality at his official residence in parliament, with one meal with the Australian Speaker in May 2014 costing £1,954.

The public has also paid for hundreds of postcard-sized photographs of the Speaker that are "sent out on request", nearly £2,000 worth of beeswax candles, and hundreds of pounds to tune the grand piano in his apartments.

The details have emerged in a full breakdown of spending charged to the Speaker's official House account over the last three-and-a-half years, obtained by the Press Association under freedom of information rules.

The Commons said it was unable to supply any information prior to April 2012 - because it has been "destroyed in accordance with the parliamentary records disposal policy".

A spokeswoman insisted that overall annual expenditure by the Speaker's Office had fallen 19.4% to £504,000 since Mr Bercow took on the role in 2009.

Mr Bercow's official spending is not subject to the same rules as other MPs - who are banned by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) from claiming meals or alcohol on expenses.

Among the disclosures in the material are:

:: Public money has regularly been used to help fund dinners for the Panel of Chairs - a group of around 40 MPs appointed by Mr Bercow and paid up to £15,000 a year to assist him with parliamentary duties. The bill for one event in 2010 came to more than £2,200.

:: Some £1,700 was spent on a reception for retiring MPs last March, and another £3,000 on an event for newly-elected members in July.

:: Dawn Primarolo, a Labour MP who served as deputy speaker, got her own dedicated send-off at a "standing down" dinner in April last year, which cost £2,057. The former minister, who received £36,000 on top of her salary for the role, was made a peer months after retiring from the Commons.

:: Up to £7,400 a time has been spent on receptions laid on by Mr Bercow for MPs following the State Opening of parliament.

:: A "quadrilateral" dinner with the Presiding Officers of Scotland and Wales and the Speaker of Northern Ireland in March 2013 was £651.79. A lunch with the same group that month was £334.51 and another £147.94 went on "refreshments".

:: A dinner in honour of the Australian Speaker cost £1,954.38 in May 2014. A meal with the Lithuanian Speaker in February last year cost £1,600.62.

:: Around £30,000 has been spent on "refreshments" for lectures delivered by politicians at parliament.

:: Photographers have been commissioned to capture official images of the Speaker at state openings. Hundreds of pounds have been spent producing postcard-sized "presentation prints" of his portrait to be "sent out on request".

The Speaker's spokeswoman said: "These costs relate to nearly four years of expenditure including, amongst 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.

"The Speaker is committed to cutting costs wherever possible, and the overall expenditure of the Speaker's Office has fallen during his tenure from £626,029 in 2009-10 to £504,737 in 2014-15, representing a reduction of 19.4% since he was elected to the role."

Dia Chakravarty, political director of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "No one will begrudge footing the bill for the official functions which the Commons Speaker would reasonably be expected to host, but these costs must be kept under constant review and savings found where possible.

"While it is reassuring that the current Speaker has evidently cut expenditure by his office, how he and his staff spend taxpayers' money should be published as a matter of course so that it can be subject to proper scrutiny.

"The fact that records prior to 2012 have already been destroyed - coupled with the need to use Freedom of Information laws to get this data in the first place - will not instil confidence in the public that the Speaker's Office is run with a culture of transparency and openness."

The Speaker's official spending is not covered by Ipsa's rules on paying for meals and alcohol - but Mr Bercow's separate expenses as MP for Buckingham are subject to the rules.


From Belfast Telegraph