Crucial details missing from MP's published expenses

Details of MPs' expenses claims were finally published by the House of Commons today - but with much of the detail that led to a public outcry blacked out.

The release of tens of thousands of claim forms and receipts on the Parliament website more than a year after the High Court ordered their publication is likely to lead to demands for greater openness.

It is impossible to identify many of the abuses which came out as a result of the earlier leak of the same material to the Daily Telegraph before crucial details were blacked out.

There are no addresses for MPs' homes, meaning it would have been virtually impossible to identify so-called "flipping", whereby MPs switch the designation of their second properties to maximise their claims.

Also redacted are the names and details of people and companies to whom payments were made using expenses.

Correspondence between MPs and the Commons Fees Office has also been removed.

The disclosures in the Daily Telegraph about the claims have forced a series of MPs to announce their resignations in the past month.

Junior Treasury minister Kitty Ussher became the latest scalp last night when she quit the Government following allegations that she avoided paying capital gains tax by "flipping" her second home.

Today's official publication covers printed documents and receipts relating to MPs' claims between 2004/05 and 2007/08 for a series of parliamentary allowances, but with many personal details redacted.

These include claims under the £24,000-a-year additional costs allowance, which reimburses MPs for the cost of having to maintain a second home while serving at Westminster; the £22,000 incidental expenses provision, which pays for running an office; and the £10,400 communications allowance, which covers the cost of newsletters and websites to inform constituents about their activities, as well as details of expenditure on stationery and postage.

Labour MP David Chaytor has announced he is stepping down in Bury North at the next general election after admitting an "unforgivable error" in claiming £13,000 in interest for a mortgage he had already paid off.

But the latest expenses disclosure has Mr Chaytor's second home address blacked out - meaning it is virtually impossible to cross-check mortgage records.

The same goes for former minister Elliot Morley, who blamed "sloppy accounting" last month when it emerged he claimed £16,000 for a mortgage that had been paid off.

The Scunthorpe MP has since announced he will be standing down at the next general election.

In each of the four years covered by the disclosure, the claim form for additional costs allowance (ACA) states that money can only be reimbursed for "costs you have actually paid".

Police are considering whether to launch a formal investigation into the arrangements of both men, along with a number of other MPs.

Cabinet minister Hilary Benn said of the expenses scandal: "It's been very, very damaging for confidence in Parliament, but when something goes wrong in life the most important thing is to hold your hands up and say it shouldn't have happened and then you have got to put it right."

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "One thing we shouldn't lose in the process is the capacity in our politics to deal with the problems of our age.

"We need our elected representatives to do a good job in helping us prepare for the future and build a good society. Politics still matters enormously despite what has gone on."

Among the material which has not been released is the notorious schedule of expenses submitted by Tory MP Douglas Hogg, which included the cost of clearing the moat at his Lincolnshire country home.

Tory Sir Peter Viggers's £1,645 claim for a duck house, which, according to The Daily Telegraph, appeared as a "pond feature" on his list of expenses also appears to have been blacked out after being disallowed by the Commons Fees Office.

However an electrician's bill for £213.95, including the cost of hanging the Christmas tree lights, which he submitted, does however appear.

The redactions mean it is impossible to tell where, for example, Luton South MP Margaret Moran's second home was.

She has announced her retirement from Parliament after heavy criticism that she spent £22,500 treating dry rot at a property in Southampton, more than 100 miles from her constituency.

Her claims also include thousands of pounds for a new kitchen, decorating, a gardening bill of £2,350 and a £599 luxury mattress.

But the property on which they were claimed is not clear as the address has been blacked out.

Maurice Frankel, of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said the release today was a "very poor substitute" for the unedited material.

"The problem is that there are no address details," he said. "That means there is no way of knowing whether or when an MP has been 'flipping'.

"The most serious abuses revealed by the Daily Telegraph would never have come to light."

Mr Frankel went on: "The House of Commons amended the Freedom of Information Act to remove residential addresses from the scope of the Act.

"That was done primarily, we were told, to protect the privacy and safety of MPs.

"You can understand that to some extent.

"But I do not think anyone outside the Commons appreciated the implications of doing that at the time."

It would have been "fairly simple" for sufficient information to be given so people could tell whether MPs were "flipping".

"A partial postcode for the MP could have been published, or the Fees Office could have noted on the records when a designation had been changed."

Mr Frankel said the ruling House of Commons Commission would have been best placed to "know what was going on", and the effects of exempting addresses from the Act.

"The mood of the House of Commons was that they did not want any of this information to be published and, failing that, as little as possible," he added.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, a long-standing campaigner for greater openness, called for a re-think on the way the material was released.

"Clearly what we have seen today, there is material which should have been released I think, and hasn't been," he told Sky News.

The former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alistair Graham, said that too much information was still being withheld from the public.

"I am against the sort of redaction and censorship which has clearly taken place," he told the BBC.

He predicted that there would be more political casualties as further abuses came to light.

"I don't think we are at the end of this story at all. We may not even be at the beginning of the end. I think this is going to run and run," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Commons authorities confirmed that MPs' expenses for 2008-9 would be published in the same format as the latest disclosure, with no addresses.

"Work has started on the allowances data from last year. It will be the same format, but no publication date has been set," she said.

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