Speaker bars MPs from querying expenses appeal

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Indy Politics

The authority of Michael Martin, the Commons Speaker, was challenged again yesterday after he barred MPs from discussing the High Court action to block the disclosure of their expenses.

Mr Martin astonished MPs by telling those who disagreed with the Commons authorities' decision to fight a Freedom of Information tribunal ruling to attend the court hearing if they wanted to find out the grounds for the appeal.

He cut short Labour MP David Winnick when he tried to raise the matter in the Commons, saying it was "sub judice". Mr Winnick said later that it was legitimate to appeal against disclosure of MPs' private addresses but not against other details of the "second homes" allowances paid to 14 politicians including Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and David Cameron.

He said: "The appeal has been done in a way that suggests this is a unanimous view of the House of Commons and that is not the case. The danger is unfortunately that people get the impression that we have something to hide."

The Liberal Democrats had believed the last-minute appeal related only to MPs' addresses and were surprised to learn it covered other details.

Nick Clegg, the party's leader, said: "There are legitimate grounds for appealing the decision to publish private addresses. However, there is no earthly reason why the rest of the information should not be published immediately."

Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Liberal Democrat leader and one of the 14 MPs covered by the appeal, said he had "no objection" to the details of his expenses being revealed and had not been consulted about the legal action. Paul Burstow, the party's chief whip, wrote to Mr Martin asking when the details will be released.

Mr Cameron opposes the appeal and has already disclosed that of the £21,359 he claimed in 2005-06, more than £21,200 went in mortgage interest payments on his constituency home in Oxfordshire.