A Labour former Minister and Midland MP has criticised the Government's "absurd" policy of spending more than £170,000 a year on bottled water.

Several government departments have released details of their bottled water costs showing they are flying in the face of an Environment Minister's advice that "it is more sustainable" to drink tap water.

The costs were released to John Spellar (Warley) in a series of written parliamentary answers and yesterday he expressed concern about both the financial and environ-mental costs.

Of the departments that gave an exact figure, the Home Office was the worst offender, spending £46,665.34 on bottled water in 2004/05, although the Treasury was unable to separate mineral water from the cost of "teas, coffees and biscuits" which totalled £200,344.

Mr Spellar said: "It's absurd that Government departments are not only pouring money down the drain but also significantly adding to landfill problems.

"They should be setting a good example to British industry and the British public.

"Transporting water by truck all adds to the number of lorry movements and then adds to landfill which is a major problem under European regulations.

"Government actions and Government policy are not adding up in this area."

The use of water coolers which run from the mains water supply also runs in to thousands of pounds, the figures show.

Junior Environment Minister Ben Bradshaw told Mr Spellar in a written answer: "It is much more sustainable for people to drink tap water."

But Mr Bradshaw's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spent £20,400 on bottled water excluding "hospitality".

Mr Bradshaw added: "In 2004, 344,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste was recycled, of which we estimated that about ten per cent or 34,500 tonnes was plastic bottles, some of which would have held water."

The British Glass and British Plastics Federation estimates that 35 per cent of glass and just eight per cent of plastic bottles are recycled.