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'Airmiles Eric' Joyce has expenses frozen

A SCOTS MP had his expenses frozen after an investigation by a spending watchdog into his travel claims.

• Eric Joyce said the sponsors of his trips had been late in paying up.

Falkirk Labour MP Eric Joyce – known as "Airmiles Eric" after his previous travel claims – had his expenses suspended by the parliamentary authorities after he used his House of Commons travel card to pay for trips to Africa and Japan that cost almost 5,000.

He also had his expenses docked when he tried to claim for minibar drinks and a donation to children's charities that was included in a hotel bill.

The details emerged yesterday as hundreds of thousands of receipts filed by MPs claiming the second-home allowance in 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 were published by the Commons.

As the latest claims were made public, Prime Minister Gordon Brown quickly broke cover to announce he had paid back 500 claimed for painting a summerhouse at his home in Fife, saying the spending was "questionable".

"I volunteered to do that," Mr Brown said. "I looked through my expenses. I said I don't want to claim for anything that is in any way questionable. Nobody asked me to do that."

He had already repaid more than 12,000, after Sir Thomas Legg's review of second-home allowances found he had made excessive claims for cleaning and gardening, as well as filing a duplicate receipt by mistake.

Mystery surrounded a series of lengthy telephone calls to Canterbury that featured on the Prime Minister's expenses claims from the height of the financial crisis.

• Find out how much your MP claimed

Speculation that Mr Brown was seeking guidance from the Archbishop of Canterbury were being discounted last night, but Downing Street refused to say who had been on the other end of the line.

No 10 was forced to insist that the Prime Minister had "full confidence" in defence minister Quentin Davies, after it emerged he had submitted a receipt for 20,700 of work to his bell tower.

Officials paid only 5,376 of the maintenance claim because the Grantham and Stamford MP had gone over his annual allowance limit.

On 18 May, as the Westminster expenses scandal was breaking, Mr Davies wrote to the authorities, seeking to clarify that he had never wanted the taxpayer to pay for the bell-tower work. The invoice covered a 10,330 roofing repair "together with a quite separate job (the bell tower], for which I emphatically was not seeking any reimbursement", he insisted.

In a statement released by his office yesterday, Mr Davies said the repairs were needed to stop the bell tower collapsing and "smashing through the roof". He added: "With hindsight, to avoid confusion, I should have asked for separate invoices."

Among the minutiae revealed yesterday was that shadow skills secretary David Willetts claimed for replacing ten light bulbs, senior Tory MP James Arbuthnot asked for 43.56 to buy three garlic peelers from shopping channel QVC and Foreign Secretary David Miliband was pursued by his local authority for late payment of council tax.

Livingston Labour MP Jim Devine claimed twice for refurbishing the bathroom of his second home within the space of a year. He said the second claim was made after his house was flooded.

Mr Joyce received a letter from the Commons' authorities in October last year to tell him that his journeys to Nairobi, Kinshasa and Tokyo, at a cost of 4,985.60, were "non-allowable".

The flights were for a trip with the Globe UK cross-party group set up to examine environmental policy. The letter from the Commons came after his claim was investigated by the country's biggest watchdog, the National Audit Office (NAO).

Mr Joyce's delay in reimbursing the Commons led to a mileage claim of 319.85 for September and hotel costs of 595 being withheld and being used to make good part of his debts.

The MP wrote an apologetic e-mail to the director of operations at the Commons explaining that "events" in his personal life, combined with his normal duties had led him to "displace" some of his "basic administration".

In December last year, the Labour MP also had 13.70 for a hotel minibar removed from a 218.50 claim, because "alcohol was not claimable" under the additional costs allowance.

Similarly, an invoice for 263.75 for a hotel was reduced by 25.80 for "minibar" and "Bibic and Sparks Children's Charities".

Mr Joyce changed his designated second home twice during the financial year, from his constituency, to a London hotel, to a London home. Last night, he said that his domestic arrangements had been uncertain, because he had not bought a place in London and had split from his wife.

When it came to his trips to Africa and Japan, Mr Joyce said it had been agreed he could use his Commons travel card on the basis that the expedition's sponsors would pay the cash back.

The sponsors were slow in making those payments and, at about the same time, the NAO began its investigation into MPs' expenses. "The NAO picked up on this and saw that the debts were being paid back too slowly and basically froze my expenses," Mr Joyce said. "But as soon as I intervened the bill was paid."

The minibar charge, he said, had been for two dinners wrongly listed on his bill.

 
 
 

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