Mps paintings
Paintings of Dianne Abbot and Iain Duncan Smith were paid for by the taxpayer.House of Commons

MPs have spent around £250,000 of taxpayer's money on commissioning 'vanity' paintings of themselves since 1995.

Among the paintings paid for by the public are a £10,000 portrait of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and a painting of Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington Dianne Abbot, costing nearly £12,000.

The figures – revealed following an investigation by the Evening Standard –also show a further £4,000 was spent to commemorate the Foreign Secretary William Hague and another £8,000 for a painting of Kenneth Clarke, the Minister Without Portfolio.

The artworks have been commissioned by a cross-party Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art since 1995. However, the figures, obtained via a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, showed there was a huge increase in spending on these official portraits after 2000, when the Labour government were in charge.

Between 1995 and 2000, only three paintings were commissioned – honouring the first female speaker Baroness Boothroyd and one each for former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown and Labour MP Tony Benn – costing a total of £13,500.

Tony Blair Mps painting
Former prime minister Tony Blair was painted by artist Phil Hale in 2007.House of Commons

In the years between 2000 and 2005, 11 parliamentarians had taxpayer-funded paintings commissioned at a cost of nearly £79,000.

The next five years saw a further 10 commissions which ran up a bill of just over £93,000.

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, said: "While the public might expect former prime ministers or speakers to be afforded the honour of a painting or bust in Parliament, it would certainly seem that the net is being cast increasingly wide when it comes to identifying subjects.

Lord Howard
Richard Stone's portrait of Michael Howard cost £9,400.House of Commons

"Regularly splashing out four- or five-figure sums for these portraits has the whiff of an expensive vanity project, for which unwitting taxpayers are footing the bill.

"When photographs are so much cheaper than paintings, politicians need to think twice about spending our money immortalising themselves or their friends on canvas, or even in bronze."

A Commons spokesman said: "The Parliamentary Art Collection at the House of Commons records those who have made a significant contribution to UK political life over the centuries and in each parliament the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art endeavours to update this record by adding to the contemporary portrait collection.

"In recent years the annual budget for acquiring works of art for the collection has been reduced to reflect the need for savings in the current economic downturn. This is part of the House's drive to reduce its overall cost by 17% by 2014-15."

paddy ashdown
Lord Ashdown's painting cost the public £2,000 in 1995.House of Commons