22 January 2009
It is not surprising that Government proposals to exempt MPs expenses from the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act attracted a lot of media attention. The Government was rather naïve in thinking that a new scheme for the publication of MPs’ expenses breaking them down into more categories (of itself a good thing!) would be accepted as a satisfactory substitute, after citing concern about the costs of having to provide copies of all receipts and other information submitted by MPs to justify their claims.
I supported the provision of more detail as of routine (i.e. without people having to request the information using FoI arrangements) but opposed the FoI Order. I was one of the first to sign the Parliamentary Motion reproduced below (EDM 492 - which has the status of an expression of opinion) thus sending a signal to the Government that I would vote against the move if the matter was put to the vote.
However, I have supported action by the House authorities to ensure that details of addresses in London and other personal information that could pose a security risk (such as information that would reveal regular journeys) could be removed from information requested under Freedom of Information arrangements. Constituents who have corresponded with me on this agree this is reasonable.
In the end, the Government withdrew its original proposal and so the matter was not put to the vote. Therefore the situation remains that requests under legislation can be made.
As I have done in the past, I will publicise my own expenses on this website and constituents who wish further detail can ask for it. I do not retain all the receipts I submit with my claims for my second home and for office consumables as most are for trivial amounts but these are kept by the House authorities who can make them available.
I hope that those in the media who have called for greater transparency over MPs expenses will now bother to actually report IN FULL the information released. This has not been the case in the past and reports have included only the totality of an MPs claims without making it clear that, in most cases, (certainly in mine) the lion’s share is paid in salaries to the people we employ to provide a service to our constituents. The cynic in me would suggest that this is because it has suited their agenda to portray MPs expenses as if they are paid to us personally!
EDM 492: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION (PARLIAMENT) ORDER 2009
That this House notes with concern the provisions in the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009 to remove the expenses of hon. Members and Peers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act; notes that this Order singles out hon. Members and Peers in a special category as the only public officials who will not have to disclose full details of their expenses; further notes the High Court judgement of 16th May 2008 and subsequent reassurances to hon. Members that expenses would be published in full by autumn 2008; further notes with concern the regressive effect of this Order on parliamentary transparency and the detrimental impact it will have on Parliament in the eyes of the public; and calls on Ministers to block or repeal the Order in the interest of hon. Members' and Peers' accountability to members of the public.
In response to Gordon Brown's proposals for reforms to the expenses system, and his call for proposals of alternative solutions, I have also tabled the following EDM, arguing that expenses allowances should decrease once a Member has been in office for a longer period.
EDM 1316: HON. MEMBERS' ALLOWANCES
That this House proposes, in response to the Prime Minister's invitation to put forward alternative proposals for financing hon. Members' additional housing costs, a system that is based on verified and necessary actual expenditure that is set at a higher maximum rate for new hon. Members for their first term of office but for all other members is reduced in real terms pro rata to their length of office.
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