Prescott gamble

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IT is disingenuous of the Tories to accuse Lord Prescott of playing Russian roulette with the nation’s finances after a trip to Australia saw his officials spend hundreds of pounds on a taxpayer-funded credit card at a Sydney casino.

The former Deputy Prime Minister insists that he never possessed such a card and that the expenditure during a trip to examine Australia’s gambling law was “probably” used to pay for food and drink.

Two serious points need to be made. First, such expense claims need to be properly scrutinised by a relevant Minister or official, and Lord Prescott’s department erred here.

Second, what were Lord Prescott, and his sidekicks, doing in Australia on such a visit when information about the economic impact of casinos could have been acquired from officials on the ground, or on the internet?

That the Government is clamping down on the use of such cards is welcome, but it has only reduced expenditure from £387m to £342m in 2010-11.

After ridiculing Lord Prescott, can Ministers defend such spending on their watch, which still appears to be excessive?