Updated: 23 January 2009
The government had been proposing to rush through an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act to exclude information about MPs’ and Peers’ expenses from the Act’s scope. However, it has been forced to withdraw the proposal – at least for now.
The proposal, contained in the draft Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009, was announced by the Leader of of the House, Harriet Harman MP, on Thursday 15 January 2009. It was due to be voted on in the Commons and the Lords only a week later, on 22 January. If approved, it would have become law the following day.
Had the proposed Order been approved:
- Information about MPs’ and Peers’ annual expenditure, broken down by subheading, would be published each year as part of Parliament’s publication scheme.
- But information about all individual items of expenditure would have been secret and outside the scope of the FOI Act altogether.
In 2008 the Information Tribunal ruled that such detailed information could not be withheld under the Act. The House of Commons appealed against that decision to the High Court and lost.
Last year, a private member’s bill to remove both Houses of Parliament from the FOI Act altogether was approved by the House of Commons but fell when no peer was willing to introduce it in the House of Lords. You can read more about that bill here.
The latest proposal has now been withdrawn – though the government has not ruled out the possibility of a future attempt to restrict access. The about-turn occurred after the the Conservatives announced that they would join the Liberal Democrats in opposing the measure. The government maintain that the Conservatives had previously agreed to support it – the Conservatives deny this.
The House of Commons has approved the remaining elements of the package, which in themselves are welcome. The Commons’ publication scheme will be improved so that the annual publication of information about MPs’ expenses will be broken down into 26 categories instead of the existing 13, providing some additional detail about expenditure. New independent auditing of MPs’ expenses will be introduced and the rules on what expenses MPs are permitted to claim will be clarified.
Crucially, the government has now confirmed that the disputed information will be published. Detailed information will be provided about all MPs’ expenses claims between 2004 and 2008 including scanned copies of the individual receipts. There will be some delay before these are ready to be disclosed, as each receipt is being examined individually to identify and remove any personal information whose disclosure is not required (eg spending on other purchases for which the MP has not sought reimbursement).
However, Harriet Harman, refused to rule out a future attempt to restrict access. The High Court had said the individual receipts had to be disclosed partly because of the serious shortcomings in the existing system of expenses. The improvements now being introduced, such as independent auditing of MPs’ claims, might change the position and allow detailed information about future expenses to be withheld, she suggested. She added that it might nevertheless be decided to carry on disclosing them even if they believed they were not required to do so. The Campaign has no doubt that they should do so.
Before the measure was withdrawn, the Campaign had encouraged people to write to their MPs asking them to vote against the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order and sign Early Day Motion (EDM) 492 sponsored by Jo Swinson MP opposing the Order. Although the Order has been withdrawn, it is still worth asking your MP to sign the EDM. You can write to your MP via the WritetoThem website. An up-to-date list of MPs who have signed the motion is available here.
The detailed expenses of all public officials, across the whole public sector, are publicly available on request under the FOI Act. The Campaign believes it deeply inappropriate – and damaging to Parliament’s reputation – that MPs should seek such special protection from a measure which they have deemed should apply to everyone else.
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- Campaign welcomes decision to shelve “improper” attempt to conceal MPs’ expenses, press release 21/1/09
- Parliamentary briefing for MPs and peers, 21/1/09
- Why should they be spared the scrutiny, Maurice Frankel, The Times 16/1/09
- Access to MPs’ expenses move criticised, press release 15/1/09
- MPs’ expenses: Hidden benefits, Sunday Times 25/1/09
- MPs’ expenes: Receipts could still be kept secret, Telegraph 23/1/09
- MPs’ expenses: ‘Brown and his MPs should be ashamed’, Scotsman 23/1/09
- Details of MPs’ expenses could still be exempted from FoI Act, Guardian 22/1/09
- FOI request will still be required for full disclosure of MPs’ expenses, Scotsman 22/1/09
- U-turn over MPs’ expenses secrecy, Independent 21/1/09
- Brown ditches MPs expenses plan, FT 21/1/09
- Parties fight over MPs’ expenses, Sky News 21/1/09
- MPs’ expenses: A sensible decision, Guardian 21/1/09
- Gordon Brown withdraws plan to keep details of MPs’ expenses secret, Guardian 21/1/09
- Labour MPs in expenses details row, Telegraph 21/1/09
- Tory frontbench and Lib Dems fight move to hide MPs’ expenses, Guardian 21/9/09
- Gordon Brown backs move to block full publication of MPs’ expenses, The Times 21/9/09
- MPs fiddle while the banks burn, FT 20/1/09
- MPs can strike a blow for freedom, Letters, Guardian 20/1/09
- Protests grow over MP expense bid, BBC News 20/1/09
- Harman must explain expenses plan , Public Service 19/1/09
- ‘MPs should be stripped of expenses’, Mirror 19/1/09
- MPs face internet backlash as they fight to keep expenses secret, Guardian 19/1/09
- What have sneaky MPs got to hide?, Mirror 17/1/09
- A poor excuse for MPs to keep their expenses secret, Editorial, Telegraph 17/1/09
- Expenses spared, Editorial, The Guardian 17/1/09
- Taxpayers foot £1m bill for publication of expenses but MPs STILL want to cover them up, Daily Mail 16/1/09
- ‘Arrogant’ MPs in new dodge to keep details of expenses secret, Daily Mail 16/1/09
- MPs in expenses receipt fiddle, The Sun 16/1/09
- A good day to bury bad news on MPs’ expenses, The Independent 16/1/09
- Nothing to declare, David Hencke, commentisfree, The Guardian 16/1/09
- Ministers face anger over plan to exempt MPs’ expenses from freedom of information act, The Guardian 16/1/09
- MPs to be let off FoI, politics.co.uk 16/1/09
- MPs accused of keeping expenses secret, Telegraph 16/1/09
- MPs defy the judges to keep ‘John Lewis’ expenses list secret, The Times 16/1/09
- MPs’ cash claims kept in the dark, Mirror 16/1/09
- FoI campaigners condemn MPs’ bid to hide expenses, Press Gazette 15/1/09
- MPs’ detailed expenses to stay secret, FT 15/1/09
- MPs’ expenses: Ciao, Silvio, Sky News 15/1/09
- Freedom of information takes a battering, The Guardian 15/1/09
- ‘MPs must be accountable’ – Cheltenham MP , Gloucester Citizen 24/1/09
- Southport MP John Pugh welcomes move to reveal details of MPs’ expenses, Southport Visiter 23/1/09
- MP and rival welcome expenses ruling, Eastbourne Today 22/1/09
- MP pleased at expenses U-turn, Luton Today 22/1/09
- MPs’ expenses: all will be revealed , Oldham Chronicle 22/1/09
- MPs’ stand on expenses, South Wales Evening Post 22/1/09
- Wrexham MP backs clearer expenses, News Wales 22/1/09
- MPs hit out at plans to hide expenses, Gloucester Citizen 20/1/09
- Outrage over UK Government attempt to block release of AMs’ expenses, Western Mail 19/1/09
- Assembly leads the way over expenses claims , Western Mail 19/1/09
- MP expenses vote not backed by Labour’s Gwyn Prosser, This is Kent 19/1/09
- Wyatt leads backlash over MPs’ expenses block, Kent Messenger 19/1/09
- Row continues over MPs expenses, Nottingham Evening Post 19/1/09
- Exeter MP in expenses call , Express & Echo 19/1/09
- MP considers publishing expenses , Halesowen News 17/1/09
- MPs angry over expenses move , Leicester Mercury 17/1/09
- MPs’ expenses – let’s have no hiding place , Leicester Mercury 17/1/09
- MPs’ expenses move dubbed ‘disappointing’, Herald Express 17/1/09
- MP urges full expenses publication, Watford Observer 16/1/09
- PM backs Harman on expenses, Evening Standard 16/1/09
- Anger at bid to deny access to MPs’ expenses , Bournemouth Echo 16/1/09
- ‘Fury’ over MPs’ expenses move , Metro 16/1/09
- Make MPs reveal expense claim details , peers urged, Evening Standard 16/1/09
- Bid to maintain secrect on MPs’ expenses branded ‘disgraceful’, Yorkshire Post 16/1/09
- Ben Leapman: Government bid to keep MPs’ expenses secret is a disgrace
- Daniel Hannan: Parliament must not be exempt from its own laws
- David Heath MP: Freedom of Information must apply to everybody in public life say Lib Dems
- Douglas Carswell MP: An outrage that makes me ashamed to be an MP
- Guido Fawkes: If they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear
- Heather Brooke: We have until Thursday to stop this rot
- Iain Dale: It is up to MPs to restore their reputation
- Jo Swinson MP
- John Mann MP
- John Rentoul: Gordon’s expensive mistake
- Liberal Democrats: Nick Clegg vows to oppose plans to keep MPs’ expenses secret
- Lorely Burt MP: People need to know our business
- mysociety: 6 days to stop MPs concealing their expenses
- Unlock Democracy