Commons to unveil MP payout levels

House of Commons authorities are to release details of payouts totalling millions of pounds made to MPs who stood down or were defeated at last year's General Election.

The move - expected in about four weeks' time after the former MPs involved have been informed - came after Commons authorities backed down in the face of a freedom of information appeal from the Leicester Mercury newspaper.

MPs who leave the Commons at an election are entitled to a resettlement grant worth up to £65,738 to help them cope with the transition back to life outside Westminster.

It has emerged that 250 of the 255 MPs who left the Commons at last year's election have claimed the payout, which varies between 50% and 100% of MPs' annual salary depending on age and length of service.

An MP aged 55 to 64 leaving after 15 or more years in the Commons can claim the full £65,738 grant while others are entitled to at least £32,869.

If all the departing MPs claimed the full amount, the total for last year's election would run to more than £16 million, though it is more likely to be around £10 million given the age and experience of those leaving.

Until now, the names of those receiving the sum have remained secret and the Commons authorities initially refused a request from the Mercury last June for a list of those who took the money.

But after the paper appealed to the Information Commissioner, Commons officials responded that circumstances had now changed and they no longer regarded the information as exempt.

A Commons spokesman today said that the Mercury will be provided with a list of MPs who claimed resettlement grants, though it has not yet been decided whether the list will be officially published.

In a letter last July explaining why the initial request for information was rejected, Commons authorities said that the interest in disclosure was not considered to outweigh the right of former MPs to privacy about their financial affairs.

"It is up to members whether they claim it on leaving the House and that decision would seem to be based on their personal financial position or their view of their entitlement to claim it, both of which are personal issues concerning someone who is no longer a Member of Parliament," said the letter.

"The grant is also intended to assist with the transition back into a non-parliamentary life, it is not paying for expenses incurred due to parliamentary duties. All of that adds up to more of a private issue rather than a public one."

However, in a new letter, the Commons authorities explained their change of heart: "The current position is that, with a few exceptions, the processing of claims is now at an end and 250 former MPs out of 255 who left the House in April 2010 are in receipt of payments from the grant; that the data protection concerns that prevailed in June 2010 no longer apply; and, that the information requested can be provided to you."