Free speech? Taxpayers foot bill for Tory MP to get £22k worth of Polish lessons, while others spend thousands brushing up on French, Spanish and Arabic… with costs soaring during Covid lockdown
- EXC: Commons has revealed costs of MPs’ taxpayer-funded language lessons
- Spending on classes surged amid lockdown when people were told to say home
- Tory Daniel Kawczynski ‘almost fluent’ in Polish but had £8k of tuition last year
Conservative backbencher Daniel Kawczynski received tuition worth £8,244 in 2020-21 alone – equivalent to £158 a week
Taxpayers have footed the bill for MPs to get tens of thousands of pounds in language lessons – including one Tory who has spent nearly £22,000 learning Polish.
Critics hit out after the House of Commons disclosed that politicians have received more than £127,000 worth of free classes in French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian and Arabic over the past five years.
The costs of the classes laid on by parliament reached a new record of £33,931 last year, when people were ordered to stay at home amid the coronavirus lockdown.
Conservative backbencher Daniel Kawczynski received tuition worth £8,244 in 2020-21 alone – equivalent to around £158 a week.
Since 2016 Mr Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, has racked up £21,997 of lessons, according to the figures from parliament.
In 2019 he described himself as an ‘almost fluent Polish speaker’ and said he was using the skill to encourage Warsaw to block an extension of the Brexit Article 50 period.
He did not respond to a request for comment.
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debonnaire took £3,411 worth of Arabic classes in 2020-21, saying it ‘helps me communicate with the diverse population’ in her Bristol West constituency.
Fellow Labour MP Tony Lloyd ran up a £1,302.03 bill brushing up on Spanish last year, while Tories Stephen Crabb and Andrew Percy had costs of £2,329 and £2,123.50 respectively for French tuition.
Another Conservative, Stuart Anderson, was listed as having £4,058.88 worth of Punjabi lessons. His Wolverhampton seat has a large Indian community.
None of those four MPs commented on the figures.
There is no suggestion that any of the politicians have broken rules, with the Commons offering ‘training in accordance with their parliamentary duties’.
There is no suggestion that any of the politicians have broken rules, with the Commons offering ‘relevant training… in connection with their parliamentary duties’
Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debonnaire took £3,411 worth of Arabic classes in 2020-21, saying it ‘helps me communicate with the diverse population’ in the Bristol West constituency
In 2019 Mr Kawczynski described himself as an ‘almost fluent Polish speaker’ and said he was using the skill to encourage Warsaw to block an extension of the Brexit Article 50 period
However, Danielle Boxall, media campaign manager at the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: ‘This is a lot of money for language courses that many taxpayers couldn’t afford for themselves.
‘If MPs want to learn another language, they should pay for classes out of their own pocket and not expect taxpayers to pick up the bill.
‘Maybe instead of language lessons, MPs should be taught about where the money comes from to pay for these perks.’
Ms Debonnaire said: ‘I have been studying Arabic because it helps me communicate with the diverse population I represent. Arabic is not an easy language to learn, so I’m proud to have reached a good working level over a few years.
‘These classes have undoubtedly helped me do my job. I’ve used it to help constituents with their problems. Learning the language is also useful for understanding the politics of the Middle East, which affects us in the UK in many ways.’
A House of Commons spokesman said: ‘MPs are entitled to undertake language training in accordance with their Parliamentary duties.
‘Annual costs depend on the number of MPs who decide to take up the offer, as well as the training requirements themselves, which are specific to each individual MP.’
MPs who took language classes in 2020-21 and how much they cost
Daniel Kawczynski – Polish – £8,244.03
Stuart Anderson – Punjabi – £4,058.88
Nia Griffith – Polish – £3,822.84
Thangam Debbonaire – Arabic – £3,411.17
Royston Smith – Arabic – £2,792.13
Stephen Crabb – French – £2,329
Andrew Percy – French – £2,123.50
Christian Wakeford – Hebrew – £2,106.09
Bob Seely – Russian – £1,598.73
Tony Lloyd – Spanish – £1,302.03
Greg Clark – German – £1,131.73
Helen Grant – French – £352
Antony Higginbotham – Russian – £350
Rosena Allin-Khan – Polish – £234.01
Sara Britcliffe – Spanish – £75.00