Expenses – where did it all begin?

Required reading for your Saturday morning if you want to understand exactly how we’ve got to where we are, from investigative journalist Heather Brooke in the Guardian:

I did one request for travel information (refused), then for the names and salaries of MPs’ staff (this was blocked personally by Speaker Michael Martin) and then finally one for information on second homes. Initially I asked for the details for all MPs, but this was refused, so then I narrowed it down to 10 – the leaders of the parties and a few ministers.

This was in 2006. My request for details on second homes was rejected, but in July that year I took it to the information commissioner, Richard Thomas. He is independent, but appointed and paid for by the government – so exactly how independent is up for debate. My request sat in his in-tray for a year. This is not uncommon and, indeed, two other cases seeking similar details on two other MPs had been languishing even longer (requests brought by Ben Leapman from the Sunday Telegraph and Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas from the Sunday Times). Eventually, our three cases were combined and in June 2007 the commissioner finally made his decision. It pleased no one: he refused to agree to the publication of receipts but thought the allowance could be broken down into more specific categories. The problem was that that would have created even more work for the Commons than publishing the raw data. The Commons appealed, as did I and the other two reporters.

Ploughing through this sorry tale, you wonder even more why we didn’t do anything about this earlier.

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3 Comments

  • paul barker 16th May '09 - 1:50pm

    the labor decision on reselection of mps is the best result so far but our party could take it farther; the executive meeting on monday could announce reselection meetings for all our mps, the decision would be up to 63 local parties, the people who have to defend mps on the doorstep.

  • Rob Parsons 16th May '09 - 3:16pm

    “Ploughing through this sorry tale, you wonder even more why we didn’t do anything about this earlier.”

    Actually we were – it’s just that nobody was paying any attention, as is so often the case. As I understand it, Norman Baker was on the trail, trying to get expenses released under FOI for two years until Parliament realised last year they were going to lose, and tried to change the law to exempt themselves from FOI.

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