Brown abandons bid to keep MPs' expenses secret

Up to 100 backbenchers were ready to defy order to vote with the Government
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Details of expenses claims made by MPs will continue to be made public after Gordon Brown abandoned plans to try to keep them secret. A vote was due today on an amendment that would have exempted detailed expenses breakdowns from the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

But the Prime Minister backed down from plans to block the bill-by-bill publication yesterday amid warnings that up to 100 backbenchers would defy an order to vote with the Government.

Some ministerial aides are thought to have been ready to quit over the plans, which would have kept secret the release of about one million receipts covering everything from MPs' office costs to their household furniture, electrical appliances and grocery bills.

Labour and the Conservatives clashed furiously over who was to blame for the dramatic reverse, which is likely to mean a full breakdown of every claim made by the 646 MPs since 2005 will be published by the end of the year.

The Prime Minister denounced David Cameron for reneging on a private deal to remove MPs' claims from FOI legislation. But the Tory leadership furiously denied the claims, accusing the Government of "fiction" and "outrageous spin".

A High Court ruling last year forced parliamentary authorities to release the detailed breakdown of expenses despite years of resistance. But last week, ministers published proposals that would have allowed MPs to continue concealing the information, with MPs and peers due to debate an order today to remove their expenses from FOI legislation.

Mr Brown backed down and told MPs: "We thought we had agreement on the Freedom of Information Act as part of this wider package. Recently that support we believed we had from the main opposition party was withdrawn." Later Harriet Harman, Commons leader, confirmed the order exempting MPs was being dropped.

Mr Cameron mocked the Government's "U-turn" and added: "To exempt MPs from the FOI Act would be completely wrong – they should be treated the same as everybody else." But senior party figures made clear the Conservatives were prepared to negotiate a compromise deal on the release of future expenses claims.

Mr Brown was facing a rapidly growing rebellion on a second front last night after it became clear the number of Labour MPs who have openly condemned moves to part-privatise the Royal Mail approached 100.

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