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MPs' expenses - what next?

Martin Rosenbaum | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 27 April 2007

The Bill to exempt MPs from freedom of information was not discussed in the House of Commons today, but has been postponed until 18 May. At this stage it is far from clear whether it will actually be discussed then either, since that depends on the progress made by other Bills which could take priority according to the rules for allocating debating time.

As I've discussed before, the practical effects of the Bill would be (a) to keep secret all correspondence between MPs and public authorities (letters about the personal circumstances of constituents are already protected from disclosure under the Data Protection Act), and (b) to stop further details being released of how MPs spend their allowances.

So what further information about MPs' expenses might come out if the Bill doesn't go ahead? Numerous requests for additional details are currently working their way through the FOI process, awaiting decision by the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal.

The Commissioner's Office divided the appeals it has received about MPs expenses on travel, subsistence, accommodation, office supplies, etc into three tranches.

The first involved those seeking the breakdown of travel expenses per MP according to mode of transport. This has been decided. The Commons was forced to reveal this breakdown earlier this year following decisions by first the Commissioner and then on appeal the Tribunal that it should be made public.

The second tranche comprises requests for the travel expenses of certain named MPs and, in one case, the spouse of one of those MPs. Again the Commissioner ordered disclosure. Again the House of Commons has appealed to the Tribunal, which recently fixed a hearing date of 20 June.

The third tranche are those regarded by the Information Commissioner's Office as more complex in terms of the nature of the information requested and the extent to which disclosure of that information would impact on the private lives of the MPs and their families. The ICO has yet to decide on these, and so we do not yet know whether under existing law the Commons might be forced to reveal this kind of information anyway.

In at least one of these cases the Commissioner's Office sent a draft Preliminary Decision Notice to the Commons authorities last year, which prompted further arguments from them. These additional representations were one factor which has made the ICO re-consider its preliminary approach on these cases, and that consideration still continues.

Unless the Commissioner decides to wait for the outcome of the Tribunal case on the second tranche, a decision on the third tranche is possible by the end of next month - although probably not by May 18.

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It is not clear why the bill has been delayed.

Has David MacLean asked to delay it or does the Speaker have those powers? Do you know? Can you find out?

It is David Maclean's decision, as the MP introducing the Bill. Presumably he hopes he can muster more support on the later date. With 100 MPs backing him he can force closure of a debate and so outmanoeuvre the filibusters.

It is not just MPs' individual expenses which this Bill would exempt from Freedom of Information Act requests, there are other issues of public concern regarding say, the waste of money and management ineptitude, which seems to historically accompany each and every major expenditure on the buildings of the the Palace of Westminster and associated office buildings.

Before the FOIA was passed, Portcullis House went way over budget (each MP's office cost nearly £1.2 million) MP's office), and involved £10 million of legal fees and an out of court settlement in the Harmon case, which involved the illegal award of the contract to a rival firm.

This Bill would prevent FOIA requests about any such instances of Parliamentary rather than Government incompetence in the future.

Similarly, other sorts of FOIA requests to the joint Parliamentary authorities of the House of Commons and the House of Lords would also be blocked, such as those asking about what, if any, correspondence or meetings there has been between the Home Office and Metropolitan Police and the Parliamentary authorities, about why the recent Designation of the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House under Section 128 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act includes the formerly public access areas like Central Lobby and the Committee Rooms etc., thereby automatically criminalising members of the public, at the whim of a police constable, regardless of any permission granted by the Parliamentary authorities themselves.

  • 4.
  • At 08:16 PM on 27 Apr 2007,
  • Michael McFarlane wrote:

I would love to hear the MP who is pushing for these amendments explain to his constituents, why he is grateful for their votes which allows him his position, but they should not actually expect full disclosure of information that would help assure them they elected the best man for the job, - or not.

  • 5.
  • At 04:01 PM on 30 Apr 2007,
  • andy williams wrote:

This is an absolute disgrace. We pay for these MPs. We pay their allowances and we pay for their pensions. It is our democratic right to know exactly what they are claiming for and how much they are getting. Any attempt by them to evade the issue is contemptable.

To be brutally frank, if they are trying to hide it, then they are corrupt.

  • 6.
  • At 05:09 PM on 03 May 2007,
  • Peter HOAR wrote:

Re Post no 4 above - Michael McFarlane wrote: “I would love to hear the MP who is pushing for these amendments explain to his constituents … … but they should not actually expect full disclosure of information.”

Michael et al - See Martin’s Article "MP's FOI Bill lacks support" from 20th April. My Post No 4 . - You will be lucky to find anything about his Bill or indeed anything about FOI at all on his website - I tried and failed. Peter HOAR

MPs' expenses - what next?

Reports that show up the bias in BBC reporting?

  • 8.
  • At 10:37 AM on 02 Feb 2008,
  • Wayne Roberts wrote:

Every other walk of life requires people to claim legitmate expenses and declare same.No one should be allowed to sign off
there own expenses and as civil servants
this should be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.It is no wonder that that the country and the people of the country have no trust in MPs an dthe judicial system.The MPs are sticking two fingers upto the public and are abive the law.

  • 9.
  • At 10:03 AM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Graeme Trinder wrote:

There is an easy way to stop the abuse of the expenses. In addition to their pay they should receive a FIXED amount for expenses.

Then like in a business, if they require more, they should go before an official ALL PARTY body and make their case.

This simple move would prevent most if not all the fiddles.

  • 10.
  • At 11:30 PM on 04 Feb 2008,
  • Craig wrote:

My MP (a former Labour Cabinet Minister) employs his wife - who is not just on his staff but also finds time to be a COunty and Parish Councillor. She is also, so I hear, planning to stand for the City Council this May.

Where does she find the time! And, more importantly, how is her party political work disentangled from her paid parliamentary work?

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