MPs expenses a little less murky

The Information Commissioner today issued a press release publicising one of his rare decisions made advancing government transparency and accountability.

His ruling involved three complainants who requested a breakdown of travel claims made by MP Anne Moffat for herself and for her spouse. A further complainant asked for the number of rail warrants issued for David Blunkett.

As usual in these instances, politicians responded by claiming that to account for their use of public funds would be an invasion of their privacy (all the while supporting the imposition of ID cards and CCTV cameras that would daily invade the privacy of private individuals).

The Commissioner did not accept that disclosure would contravene the Data Protection Act as the information relates to individuals acting in an official, rather than a private capacity, and that the journeys for which an MP may claim reimbursement, relate to official business and are paid for by taxpayers.

So one small step for transparent government? Not quite. The Commons has 35 days to comply with the decision and has already appealed a similar ruling to the Information Tribunal.

And although all MPs expenses and allowances concern the same point in law, the Commissioner has refused to include any other expense types in this ruling. So, for example, my appeal to the Commissioner against the House of Commons refusal to provide MPs’ claims of additional costs allowances has to lounge around in the Commissioner’s queue for who knows how long.

Read the Commissioner’s press release here:

For immediate release

Date: 12 September 2006

Information Commissioner orders disclosure of MPs’ travel expenses

The Information Commissioner has ordered the travel expenses of two MPs to be released by the House of Commons after ruling on four appeals under the Freedom of Information Act.

Three complainants requested a breakdown of travel claims made by Anne Picking MP (now known as Anne Moffat MP) for herself and for her spouse. A further complaint requested the number of rail warrants issued for Rt Hon. David Blunkett MP.

The House of Commons refused to release the information on the basis that it was exempt personal information and disclosure would contravene the Data Protection Act.

The Commissioner does not accept that disclosure of the requested information would contravene the Data Protection Act. His view is that the information relates to individuals acting in an official, rather than a private capacity, and that the journeys for which an MP may claim reimbursement, relate to official business. They are paid for out of public funds.

When considering the request for the travel claims of an MP’s spouse, the Commissioner finds that the information requested still arises from the MP’s position as a holder of public office. The costs incurred by an MP’s spouse – when travelling between the MP’s constituency and Westminster – can be claimed by the MP from public funds.

The Commissioner has ordered that the information be released within 35 days of the issue of his Decision Notice.

ENDS

If you need more information or would like to see a copy of the full decision notices, please contact the Information Commissioner’s press office on 020 7025 7580.

Notes to Editors

The Information Commissioner promotes public access to official information and protects personal information. The ICO is an independent body with specific responsibilities set out in the Data Protection Act 1998, the Freedom of Information Act 2000, Environmental Information Regulations and Privacy and Electronic Communications

For more information about the Information Commissioner’s Office subscribe to our e-newsletter at www.ico.gov.uk

The ICO received a number of similar complaints on this issue and has therefore grouped the complaints together

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