Freedom Of Information: MPs reach end of road in battle over secret expenses

A request to see MPs' expenses seemed innocuous enough. But, says Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, the Commons authorities decided to fight it tooth and nail

Having spent more than two years battling to keep secret details of MPs' spending the authorities of the House of Commons will today finally admit defeat. At 4pm officials of the Palace of Westminster have agreed to hand over hundreds of documents, including expenses claims made by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron, to freedom of information campaigners and two Sunday newspapers.

It will mark the end of a rather inglorious and disagreeable chapter in the history of our much respected Parliament.

For those of us who have watched with increasing disbelief as MPs and their officials find new ways to obstruct legitimate requests for information about those who govern us, this sorry saga has been as baffling as it is infuriating. It also raises suspicions, perhaps unjustified, that MPs have something to hide. And the cost to the public purse in trying to keep prying eyes out of MPs' affairs, must run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, including fees paid to outside lawyers. Later today we will find out what the Commons was so worried about, although it is understood that some papers relating to items of expense claimed by Tony Blair have already been shredded.

The decision to cave in to requests for information was forced upon the MPs after a High Court ruling ordered the publication of the detailed breakdown of their expenses claims.

It was the third ruling that went against the Commons officials, confirming that the Information Tribunal acted within its powers when it demanded that details of MPs' additional costs allowances must be provided under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Commons Members Estimate Committee decided that it would not seek leave to appeal against the ruling and would comply with the court's order that the details of 14 MPs, including Brown, Blair, and Cameron, be made public. Details of all the remaining MPs' expenses – thought to number around one million individual items – will be published in the autumn.

MPs' expenses have come under sustained criticism in recent months following the publication of the so-called "John Lewis list" of household items MPs can purchase under their £23,000-a-year second homes allowance.

The freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke – whose FoI request, along with those from journalists on the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Times, led to the court ruling – has welcomed the committee's decision. But for MPs and House of Commons authorities the outcome could not be more damaging.

In their ruling, Sir Igor Judge (President of the Queen's Bench Division), Lord Justice Latham and Mr Justice Blake also ordered that the addresses of MPs' second homes should be disclosed. This has now become the issue of greatest concern to MPs, even those who have always been relaxed about the disclosure of additional details of their expenses.

Nigel Giffin QC, appearing for the Commons in the High Court hearing, argued that the Tribunal's decision, which requires breakdowns to include receipts and the addresses of properties bought, meant there would be "a substantial unlawful intrusion" into the lives of MPs and their families that could threaten their security at the hands of the "mad and bad".

Rejecting the QC's arguments, the judges said it was "highly significant" that none of the MPs subject to applications had suggested that they claimed allowances on the basis that detailed information would not be disclosed.

r.verkaik@independent.co.uk

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Maths Teacher

£110 - £200 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Secondary Maths Teacher for spe...

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker