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The uncertainty continues

Martin Rosenbaum | 17:24 UK time, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Yesterday's last-minute decision by the House of Commons not to publish the expected information about second home expenses for MPs has still been causing controversy today.

The MPs who brought about this stance must feel very strongly about it, given the predictable terrible publicity that has resulted for the Commons in general. But as reported today, it's clear that on the other hand there are several MPs passionately in favour of releasing the material.

And it's still uncertain whether the Commons authorities will legally be able to proceed with their plan to postpone compliance with a ruling from the Information Commissioner in another wider expenses case, while the High Court appeal in the second homes case is still pending.

Since the Commons has missed the deadline for appealing in the wider case, it will now need to seek special permission from the Information Tribunal for a late appeal if it wants to challenge the Commissioner's decision. Otherwise it will have to meet the Commissioner's deadline for releasing the material. If the Commons doesn't abide by that, it will be then be up to the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, to decide on further action to enforce timely compliance.

This case covers six politicians who were MPs at the time the information was initially requested in March 2005 - Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, John Prescott, Michael Howard, Charles Kennedy and Jonathan Sayeed. The Commissioner ruled that the Commons should release the following for 2003/4:

Travel - The individual amounts claimed for the year requested broken down by mode of travel under the following three main headings: MPs travel (further broken down into European and travel on Parliamentary business within the UK), Spouse and Family travel and Staff travel. This should include summary details of the number and cost of individual journeys undertaken.

Incidental Expenses - The disclosure of the individual amounts claimed with a description of what the expense pertains to.

Staffing - The aggregate sum paid out for each month during the year requested including the number of staff members this pertains to but excluding any reference to named staff members.

Central IT provision - A breakdown of the total cost of the provision of this equipment for the year requested including a description of what this cost pertains to.

Stationery - A breakdown of both the cost of stationery during the year requested including a description of what this cost pertains to and a separate breakdown of the corresponding cost of postage.

Additional Costs - The total amount claimed by the named MPs under the Additional Costs Allowance for the year outlined in the complainant’s request by category of expense.

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