In a class of their own – MPs still opting to travel in best seats

TRANSPORT Secretary Patrick McLoughlin is among MPs who continue to enjoy first class rail travel despite expenses rules designed to encourage them to travel with the masses.

MPs spend thousands on first class trains

The latest MPs’ expenses claims show Mr McLoughlin claimed 39 times for rail fares in the last financial year including 26 for first class tickets costing a total of almost £3,000.

The costliest single ticket cost £70.40 while the most expensive return was £147.

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All the claims were for journeys between London and Mr McLoughlin’s Derbyshire Dales constituency.

Mr McLoughlin’s claims also show the Transport Secretary sometimes uses taxis for the final part of his journey home because of a lack of public transport to his village.

Rules were introduced after the expenses scandal four years ago to limit MPs’ access to first class rail travel.

First class tickets can still be bought, however, if they are cheaper than the standard fare.

The high prices charged for standard class tickets bought on the day or that allow travel on a flexible basis mean that first class tickets can often be claimed without breaking the rules.

In the last financial year, the regions’ MPs together asked the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority to reimburse more than £65,000 on first class rail tickets.

Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland made the biggest claim for a one-way ticket at £134.70 for a journey between Menston and London.

Thirsk and Malton MP Anne McIntosh spent the most on a return ticket at £264.40 for a trip between York and London.

Ms McIntosh said that for work reasons she occasionally chose to upgrade to first class where there was better access to the internet.

She also stressed that she was careful to reimburse IPSA where there was a difference between the cost of first class travel and the amount permitted.

Former Home Secretary and Hull West and Hessle MP Alan Johnson claimed for first class rail travel worth close to £6,000.

And travel expensese extend beyond MPs themselves with parliamentarians able to claim for some journeys by staff and family.

Wakefield MP Mary Creagh lodged 71 claims for rail travel by dependents in the last financial year with more than half related to first class tickets together worth more than £3,300. The highest priced ticket was a return at £181.50.

The issue of MPs’ rail travel was thrown into sharp focus last year when Chancellor George Osborne was seen travelling in first class and there were suggestions, later vehemently denied, that his staff had told the ticket inspector he should be allowed to remain there despite only having paid for a standard ticket.

The IPSA data shows that Mr Osborne was travelling on a standard return ticket that day but had paid £290 for it.

The data also reveals which MPs choose not to sit in first class as they make the journey between Yorkshire and Westminster.

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, the Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, made 39 claims for her own rail journeys in the last financial year and all were for standard class tickets.

Of the 15 train tickets claimed on expenses by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg just three were for a first class seat.

The issue of first class rail travel for MPs has become one of the most contentious areas of the expenses system since it was reformed in the wake of the 2009 revelations.

Three years ago, then Macclesfield MP Sir Nicholas Winterton was widely criticised for describing standard class passengers as a “different type of people”.

While few MPs would use the same language, many do feel the calm and space offered in first class allows them to make better working use of the large amount of time they spend on the move.

The IPSA data underlines the huge amount of time MPs spend on the move as they balance the demands of the business week in Westminster and weekends in their constituencies.

Over the course of the year, Yorkshire MPs spent more than £130,000 on rail travel.