Public affairs to be less effectively conducted
Suppose the names of the paid staff of MPs were made public, what would be the consequences?
According to the Commons Speaker Michael Martin, it would be 'likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs'. That's why he used his power of veto under the Freedom of Information Act to stop the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas from ordering their disclosure.
Mr Thomas had favoured revealing their identity. His judgment drew attention to the fact that the list of MEPs' assistants in the European Parliament is publicly available. This shows for example that Lady Dulcie Mary Atkins is an assistant to her husband, the Tory MEP Sir Robert Atkins.
His involvement followed a complaint from the freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke, who wanted to know the names and salaries of MPs' staff.
Now that the Derek Conway case has led to the media publication of various lists of MPs who employ family members, I guess we may find out whether Mr Martin's fears will now come true that 'it gives rise to a risk that their ability to continue to work effectively, without unwarranted interruption will be inhibited and thus that the effective conduct of public affairs by Members will be prejudiced.'
This dispute is just one of several cases where there have been disagreements between the House of Commons authorities and the Information Commissioner about the level of detail about MPs' spending that ought to be made public. I've noted before that the Commons is one of the public authorities most frequently to have faced adverse decisions from Mr Thomas's office.
This partly reflects the level of interest in MPs' expenditure and the number of requests for greater information about it, as well as the Commons authorities' sensitivity on the matter. The latest adverse decision for them occurred earlier this month.