Salmond faces new questions over his food bills

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TWO senior Scottish MPs faced fresh questions over their Westminster expenses last night after the Commons authorities published every claim for the past four years.

The documents showed Alex Salmond claimed the maximum amount for food at Westminster in April 2007 – a month when his spokesman admitted the First Minister had been campaigning every day in Scotland.

It also emerged yesterday that Chancellor Alistair Darling has been threatened with legal action for failing to keep on top of his bills.

The Tories repeated their call for Mr Salmond to publish all of his diaries for the last four years, to prove he was in London when claiming the maximum food allowance from the House of Commons, while Mr Darling stressed that the whole expenses system needed a thorough overhaul.

This is not the first time Mr Salmond has faced questions over his food expenses. Last month he was asked to explain his claim for the maximum amount for food from Westminster during the parliamentary recesses, including times when he had been in Scotland.

Now it has been disclosed that he claimed 400 from Westminster for food in April 2007 – the month of the Holyrood election campaign and a time when he was on a well-publicised diet.

Mr Salmond's spokesman said that the First Minister had not spent a single day of that month in London as he was north of the Border campaigning in the Scottish Parliament elections.

"Yes, he was not in London in April 2007, but this relates to bills previously incurred," the spokesman said.

However, The Scotsman then asked the spokesman how these amounts could have been for "previously incurred" bills when Mr Salmond had also claimed the maximum for food in January 2007, February 2007 and March 2007.

The spokesman insisted that everything would be placed before the independent panel set up to look at MPs' expenses.

He added that Mr Salmond was confident he would be cleared of any wrongdoing .

The Tories reacted to the fresh expense details by demanding that Mr Salmond publish his diaries to show when he was in London and when he was in Scotland, to clear up any confusion.

Scottish Conservative leader Annabel Goldie said: "As I said before regarding Mr Salmond's food claims for the summer of 2005, there needs to be transparency. Similarly, for the first year when he was both an MP and First Minister, he should publish his diaries to remove any public doubt."

Mr Salmond also faced allegations yesterday that he had misused public funds by using taxpayers' money to pay for legal advice on how to impeach Tony Blair over the Iraq War in 2004.

The First Minister claimed 790, his share of a 14,100 legal bill which was split between SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs, when they hired counsel to advise them on impeaching the then prime minister.

One of the most bizarre aspects of this claim was that Mr Salmond hired Matrix Chambers – in which Cherie Blair is a partner – for the advice.

Labour MSP David Whitton said: "Office running costs are met to allow an MP to fulfil his duties to his constituents – they are not there to allow party leaders to pay for expensive legal advice to pursue what turned out to be a complete waste of public time and money."

Mr Salmond's spokesman defended the claim, insisting that this was clearly for parliamentary business and that the impeachment process, while unsuccessful, had done more to reveal the route to the "illegal war in Iraq" than anything else.

Meanwhile, Mr Darling was having to cope with being referred to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner by a constituent for "flipping", or changing the designation of his second home, repeatedly.

A spokeswoman for Standards Commissioner John Lyon said he was considering whether to launch a formal inquiry.

Mr Darling's expenses claims revealed that he came under fire from Edinburgh City Council, which issued a final notice threatening to take the Chancellor to court over an unpaid rates bill for his office.

He has received a series of stern letters from public bodies in the last four years, all warning of the serious consequences of not paying bills on time.

Mr Darling, who as Chancellor has urged big companies to pay invoices swiftly, failed to follow his own advice on other occasions. He received a reminder notice from ScottishPower for a 108 bill. The letter warned that the company would arrange a "visit" if he did not respond and that his credit rating could be affected.

Yesterday, the Chancellor said that the system needed overhauling. "We're going to introduce legislation very, very shortly that will make the whole question of expenses run independently of the House of Commons," he said.

"It will be independent scrutiny, independent setting of the rules. I think that will lead to much more openness and they'll be far, far better in the future."

Some big players north of the Border – and who claimed what

AMONG the claims made by Alex Salmond was 1,795 for an automatic electronic letter- folding machine capable of folding 10,000 notes an hour – even though MPs are barred from sending out thousands of round-robin letters.

Mr Salmond also claimed 35 for a cake stand, which his spokesman stressed was actually a "nest of tables", and 20 to repair his office chair – after he had been claiming 400 a month for food, which his spokesman said was unrelated. His total claim for 2007-8 was 139,233.

CHANCELLOR Alistair Darling suffered an attack on his office by "paint vandals" in 2007. He charged 98.96 for redecoration, paying labourers 6 an hour, just above the minimum wage. Mr Darling has been referred to the Standards Commissioner after he "flipped" his second home several times. He also received several final notices for bills not paid on time, including a reminder from Edinburgh council for his council tax.

MICHAEL Martin, the Speaker, showed that even with an income of nearly 142,000 a year, there is no need to skimp when it comes to expenses.

The Glasgow North East MP claimed a total of 16,225 over the four years of 2004-8 for food and petty cash, none of which needed any receipts.

This works out at 4,000 a year or about 150 a week for every week the Commons sits. Mr Martin, the outgoing Speaker, was unavailable for comment yesterday.

He claimed 74,522 in the 2007-8 financial year.

IAN Davidson, the Labour MP for Glasgow South West, may be a member of the Commons committee that oversees public spending, but appears to have a problem with his own. In 2007-8, he received a summons for non-payment of a 1,293 council tax bill, which had to be paid with additional costs of 65 because of the delay. There was also another council tax summons for 1,242 in 2005, and he received reminders from Scottish Power, BT and the water board for overdue bills. He claimed at least 1,500 for the cost of help filling in his tax returns.

EDINBURGH South MP Nigel Griffiths claimed more than 1,000 in several invoices for the services of fashion photographer David Darling. Mr Griffiths, a close friend of Gordon Brown, charged taxpayers 9,250 for the rewiring, redecorating and fixing broken tiles of a property. He also charged 25.52 for an iTrip – a device that connects an iPod to a car stereo system.

The former deputy Commons leader also charged 35.24 for an item from Dixons labelled Premiership Arsenal. A check on the Dixons website turned up an Xbox game.

WESTMINSTER'S most expensive MP, Eric Joyce, has submitted numerous claims for help with his publicity. The Falkirk MP charged 600 to consultant Ross Martin on ideas for "re-engaging the people of Falkirk with the political process".

He billed taxpayers more than 8,000 over the last five years for the services of the now-defunct PR firm, Networks Central Ltd. The former Army major and Sandhurst graduate also asked the public to pick up the tab for an "assertiveness training course" in Glasgow.

DANNY Alexander, the Lib Dem MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, claimed 1,140 for shelves and a cupboard in two alcoves in his house. Then in 2007 he claimed 175 for roof repairs before moving in June that year. He got back 750 for survey and 1,000 for removal costs, but it also meant that the taxpayer had to fork out for a much higher mortgage of 1,138, up from 550.

He removed his wife Rebecca's first name from bills lodged. In 2007/08, he claimed a total of 168,478.

JIM Devine, the Livingston MP who was this week banned from standing for Labour at the next general election, routinely claimed 250 for petty cash. He also charged taxpayers 176 in legal fees to advise a former employee on a "compromise agreement terminating her employment". The Labour Party refused to comment on the nature of the dispute, saying employment issues were a matter between the MP and staff. The former Unison shop steward also asked the Commons Fees Office to reimburse the union for his mobile phone bills.

MICHAEL Connarty, the Labour MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, charged the taxpayer the cost of moving house in 2007. He submitted a bill for 13,136 in conveyancing and stamp duty. He spent 1,124 on a bed and 349 on a satellite navigation system for his car. At the end of the 2007-8 financial year, he claimed for 250 petty cash, and appended a note to the Fees Office stating: "I have NEVER claimed for petty cash and have always supplied it from my personal resources for 16 years."

FORMER Glasgow East MP David Marshall was the subject of fevered speculation about his expenses when he retired last summer because of ill-health. However, the one surprise yesterday was 987 a month for a constituency office paid to community charity GEM Workspace. During the by-election, it had been claimed his constituency office was his home but it seems he rented Room 219 at the Wright Business Centre in Easterhouse.

In 2006, he also claimed 63.50 for crockery. In 2007-8, he claimed a total of 131,698.

SIR Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and MP for North East Fife, often claimed between 100 and 180 a month for taxis. He also claimed the maximum 400-a-month allowance for food – for which receipts were not required – though he cut the claim to 200 a month during periods when the Commons would not have been sitting. In January 2007, he claimed 500 he had paid towards the cost of Lib-Dem "away-days" – which may be questioned by his rivals as MPs are not normally allowed to claim for party activities.

SCOTTISH Secretary Jim Murphy claimed 334 for work on the sewer outside his home, but it was his 297 claim for Christmas cards that temporarily caused a stink yesterday. Normally this would break expenses rules, but because he put out future surgery details in them, they were allowed.

He was ordered to pay back 3,499 for a B&Q bathroom in April 2008, but regularly claimed the maximum food allowance of 400 and petty cash of 250.

In 2007/ 08, he claimed a total of 162,542.

DES Browne, the former Scottish secretary and defence secretary, had some of the most modest claims. The Labour MP for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (and Celtic supporter) charged 430 for an advert he placed in the match-day programme of Kilmarnock FC. He never claimed for food and, when ordering mahogany furniture, managed to obtain a coffee table free of charge. He paid 1,435 for carpet and underlay and submitted a 928 bill after receiving professional help from a firm named Fleming and Reid to resolve an unspecified constituent's problem.

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