Select Committee on Members Estimate Committee Third Report

6  Costs of travel on parliamentary business

The current system

143.  Members can claim reimbursement of travel costs between their constituency and Westminster and within their constituency by car or public transport. Travel by public transport is now largely arranged through a corporate credit card, with the Member having to account for individual journeys but not being directly reimbursed. Car travel is governed by HMRC rates of 40p a mile for the first 10,000 miles and 25p thereafter. By agreement with HMRC, each Member may claim 350 miles a month (or 4,200 miles per annum), irrespective of size of constituency or distance from London, without supporting evidence. Where mileage exceeds this limit, full details have to be provided. A third of Members claim for more than 10,000 miles a year. In 2006-07 standard Member travel expenditure was approximately £5.2 million, of which about £4.2 million was for travel between constituencies and Westminster and £1 million was for travel within the constituency.

144.  Special travel provisions are available for Members' spouses, and children under the age of 18 whereby Members can claim up to 15 return journeys between London and the constituency and/or London and home. Few Members make full use of this provision. From 1971 this concession applied to Members' spouses. On 10 June 1982, it was extended to include Members' children under 18 years of age. In December 2005, it was further extended to include 18 year olds in full-time secondary education and to civil partners. Arrangements are also in place for travel for Members' staff. They permit 12 return journeys between London and the Member's constituency each year (April to March), shared between all employees of a Member.

SSRB proposals

145.  The SSRB considered the travel arrangements and noted that the current costs of car travel were increasing. They made no recommendation other than that partners of MPs should be entitled to the same travel arrangements as spouses and civil partners.

What happens in other organisations

146.  The Committee understands that travel between two places of work would be reimbursed in other organisations but that family travel would not be included.

The Scottish Parliament

147.  The review of allowances in the Scottish Parliament reduced the allowable mileage rate from 49.3p a mile to the current HMRC mileage rate of 40p a mile. They were against any financial limitation on travel to and within constituencies, but recommended that family travel should not be funded out of public money.[37]

Views expressed by Members

148.  Several Members drew the Committee's attention to the increased cost of car travel and the fact that the current mileage rates no longer cover the full running costs of a car.

149.  Others expressed concern that the flat rate of 350 miles per month did not reflect the wide disparity between small urban, large rural and intermediate constituencies. A Member representing a large rural constituency could easily travel at least 600 miles a month within the constituency.

150.  A small number of Members commented on the SSRB proposal to extend the family travel arrangement for spouses and civil partners to all partners, with some supporting it and some opposing it.

Advice from the Department of Resources

151.  The Department has examined various models for putting constituencies into different bands according to either size or distance from London for the purposes of paying a travel grant to each Member. For instance, a model with seven groups of constituencies varying in size from under 10 square miles to over 500 square miles could have a middle group (100 to 200 square miles; 72 constituencies) where a monthly mileage grant of £1,680 per Member allowed for the equivalent of 350 miles travelled. The 41 MPs with constituencies larger than 500 square miles would be allowed the equivalent of 850 miles a month at a cost of £4,050, while the 102 with consistencies smaller than 10 square miles would be allowed a mileage of 125 miles at a cost of £600 each. The overall cost of such a scheme would remain as now at just under £1 million a year.

152.  We have also been advised by the Department of Resources that the SSRB criteria for designating a partner for the purposes of travel cannot readily be applied. Whilst there are criteria for determining a partner within the Parliamentary Contributory Pension Fund rules, checks on such nominations are only applied by the PCPF on a Member's death, not at the time of receipt. We understand that any such payments would be taxable.

Opinion of the Committee

153.  Members of Parliament currently claim reimbursement of the costs they incur in travelling on parliamentary business between their constituency and Westminster, and within their constituency, whether by car or public transport. Clearly constituents expect their MP to go to Westminster and represent their interests in Parliament, and also to be available in the constituency and to get around visiting groups and people in the locality. The case for these travel costs being met from the public purse appears overwhelming and no one has seriously questioned it.

154.  Staff travel between the constituency and Westminster is also covered, enabling members of an MP's staff team to liaise, to attend training courses, and to support the MP's work in both locations as may be needed from time to time. Each MP's office is entitled to 12 such return journeys each year, divided between the staff team, and again the case for such costs being met seems compelling. No one has argued, and we see no case, for change.

155.  Members can also visit other venues relevant to their parliamentary work where this has been specifically permitted by the House authorities under the "extended travel" system, and may make three journeys each year to visit political institutions in Brussels or other European capitals, on parliamentary business. We have not received any representation suggesting that these arrangements should be altered. Further costs may be incurred when MPs travel as part of a parliamentary committee or delegation, but these are borne by the House administration and are not accounted to the travel spending of the individual, so lie beyond the scope of this review.

156.  Most parliamentary travel by public transport is now largely arranged through a corporate credit card, with the Member having to account for individual journeys but not being directly reimbursed. The Commons travel office can book journeys for Members and negotiates special rates particularly on air tickets.

157.  Since the Freedom of Information Act came into effect the House's publication scheme for MPs' expenses has offered greater transparency by listing each MP's annual travel spending, thus providing an incentive to secure value for the public's money. For the last two years this publication has extended to stating the sums claimed by "mode of travel" categories, so providing an incentive for Members to travel in as environmentally friendly a way as practical.

158.  The SSRB, reporting in July 2007, recommended no change in the current HMRC rates.

159.  All independent evidence suggests that at the present time the mileage rate of 40p per mile does not compensate colleagues who have to use a motor vehicle in the performance of their duties. If they have a large rural constituency many MPs will be making substantial losses on performing their parliamentary duties. However, MPs are not the only people in this situation. The rise in fuel prices affects millions of other workers. Throughout this report we have taken the view that Members of Parliament should not be worse off for performing public duties but they should not be better off than other members of the public either. Accordingly, we will make no case for increasing the 40p per mile paid to Members of Parliament until such time as the Treasury reviews this rate for everyone else in the country.

160.  We recommend that the House should continue to apply the same car mileage rate as specified by HM Revenue & Customs.

161.  The SSRB in its 2007 report suggested, as one way of helping reduce MPs' motoring costs, investigating the feasibility of the House acting as a corporate body for the purposes of leasing cars for Members. This arrangement is not uncommon among employers in the private and public sectors. The aim would be to enable MPs to lease cars as business rather than private customers. There is no suggestion of subsidising such leases with public money, but simply to use collective purchasing power to secure more cost effective arrangements for Members. We are considering with care the details of such a scheme and if it proves practical we would hope to offer such a facility by the time the revised systems come into effect in 2009.

162.  Travel is a matter on which the needs of Members vary considerably, not only on the basis of distance from London, but also the size and geography of constituencies and the ready availability of public transport to London. As described in our earlier "issues" paper and in paragraph 151 above, we have explored the possibility of a genuine travel "allowance"—an annual grant based on a formula reflecting the size of constituency and its distance from London. Having looked at financial modelling for such a formula we have concluded that it would not form a practical basis for creating such an allowance. However, the present administrative threshold below which un-itemised monthly motoring claims within a constituency can be made—the standard figure of 350 miles—fails entirely to reflect the differences between compact urban and larger rural seats. We believe this could usefully be modified as follows:
Band 1
Band 2
Band 3
Size of Constituency (sq miles)
Up to 25
200 and above
Number of Constituencies
Number of un-itemised miles allowed per month

163.  If adopted, this would mean in broad terms that the overall un-itemised mileage claimed each year by Members would be the same but would more closely match the characteristics of constituencies.

164.  We recommend that the current figure of 350 miles per month which may be claimed without supporting documents be replaced by separate mileage limits for small, medium-sized and large constituencies.

165.  Travel patterns and expenditure on travel will fall within the work of the practice assurance and audit teams, described in paragraphs 48 to 63.


166.  Special travel provisions have been available enabling MPs' spouses (since 1971), and children under the age of 18 (since 1982), to claim the costs of 15 round trips between London and the constituency and/or home each year. The spouse travel costs are untaxed, on the basis that there is a limited need for them to travel in order to support the MP in their official duties, while the children's travel is taxed as a "benefit in kind".

167.  The unusual demands of an MP's role, including very long hours, never really being off duty, constantly being in public demand, and family separation through working in two locations, while by no means unique in the 21st century, nevertheless do little to support a healthy work : life balance. Good employers in comparable circumstances look for appropriate measures to try and help. There is a significant failure rate of parliamentary marriages, as with other occupations where family separation is prevalent.

168.  School holidays and parliamentary recesses do not always overlap and some MPs use this concessionary travel to keep their family together when such opportunities arise. In practice these family travel costs are not fully claimed, but are greatly appreciated particularly by those with constituencies the furthest from London.

169.  So while these family travel arrangements sometimes attract critical comment, and the recent independent review of allowances in the Scottish Parliament recommended that family travel should not be funded out of public money[38] (although both the geography and the clash between school holidays and Holyrood's recesses may be lesser factors), there are some arguments to justify them and they are not wholly without analogy in other sectors.

170.  The SSRB made no recommendation on family travel other than to propose that partners of MPs should be entitled to the same travel arrangements as spouses and civil partners. A small number of Members commented on this proposal, with some supporting it and some opposing it. While we are entirely sympathetic in principle to this modernising proposal from the SSRB, we have received tax advice to the effect that extending the entitlement in this way would undermine the tax exemption currently afforded to spouse travel and make the whole allowance into a "benefit in kind". So, with regret, but in the absence of any great clamour to extend their scope, we conclude that the current arrangements would be better left as they are.

171.  We recommend that the SSRB's proposal that partners of Members should be entitled to the same limited travel arrangements as spouses and civil partners should not be implemented.

37   Scottish Review, para 7.34 and recommendation 59. Back

38   Scottish Review, para 7.34 and recommendation 59. Back

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