Scottish Parliament retains tea & biscuit expenses

The Scottish Parliament . Picture: Ian Georgeson

The Scottish Parliament . Picture: Ian Georgeson

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THERE’S no such thing as a free cuppa – at least not for MPs.

A new clampdown on Westminster expenses will ban them from claiming back the cost of tea, coffee and biscuits when they order refreshments during meetings with constituents.

MPs who choose to offer visitors refreshments will in future have to meet the cost themselves.

Holyrood has no plans to follow suit. And Lothian Tory MSP Cameron Buchanan condemned the Commons biscuit ban as “ridiculous” and “really pathetic”.

He said: “It’s taking things too far. In normal offices, it’s called hospitality.

“I used to do a lot of business overseas. If you go to see someone in Italy, the first thing they do is offer you a cup of coffee. In Japan, they give you a cup of tea.”

However, Edinburgh South Labour MP Ian Murray said he did not even know he could claim for tea, coffee or biscuits when he met constituents. “I’ve never claimed for them,” he said. “We have so many boxes of biscuits and chocolates handed in to our office, we just use that.”

He was relaxed about the rule change. “It doesn’t seem unreasonable that we should put our hand in our own pocket to buy someone a cup of tea,” he said.

Westminster’s biscuit ban will come into force after the general election.

Holyrood rules allow MSPs to claim for tea, coffee and biscuits when they have meetings with constituents. In 2013-14, MSPs claimed a total of £5649.47 under the heading “Meeting expenses – tea, coffee, biscuits”.

Edinburgh Southern SNP MSP Jim Eadie said reasonable claims should be allowed, but not lavish hospitality.

He said: “Most people understand the point that no-one should be out of pocket in the course of doing their job, but equally you should not be using expenses to supplement your income.”

Lothian Tory MSP Gavin Brown said: “If it was outlawed, I would not be particularly bothered, but by the same token, if you have constituents with a complex case and you’re in a meeting for a couple of hours, it doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.

“If you were giving it to every constituent that came to see you, I can see there might be an issue. But if someone has taken several buses from West Lothian to come and see you, you might give them a cup of tea.”

A Holyrood spokesman said: “The Scottish Parliament expenses scheme provides for the reimbursement of costs incurred by members in the course of undertaking their parliamentary duties.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com