Times coverage of hearing

The Times seems to have the most comprehensive coverage of today’s hearing so I’ve posted it here:

House of Commons loses its High Court appeal
Sam Coates, Chief Political Correspondent

Parliament’s attempts to block the disclosure of MPs’ second-home expenses have been thrown out by the High Court in a damning judgment which dismissed the Speaker’s case as “unrealistic”.

The House of Commons was ordered to pay full legal costs of its opponents, expected to be as high as £200,000, as it considers whether to appeal further.

Parliament has been ordered to disclose the details of 14 MPs’ second-home allowances, receipt by receipt, by 4pm next Friday. A decision on whether to appeal is likely to be made on Monday night.

The Speaker,Michael Martin, had to replace his lawyers after they warned that Parliament would not win this appeal process. Lord Justice Latham and Mr Justice Blake dismissed Parliament’s attempts at preventing disclosure as “wholly reasonable”.

In a written judgment, they said: “Once legislation which applies to Parliament has been enacted, MPs cannot and could not reasonably expect to contract out compliance with it, or exempt themselves, or be exempted from its ambit. Such actions would themselves contravene the Bill of Rights.”

The Judges also upheld a decision by the Information Tribunal that MPs’ private addresses should be made public as part of the disclosures, arguing they were “not very private at all”.

This is the key reason why many MPs wanted to appeal against the judgment, and has provoked anger among those who argued that it would put them and their families in danger.

But the judges pointed out that MPs’ addresses are already disclosed when seeking nomination for election, that company directors are required to provide a residential address and that everyone’s full address is recorded in local libraries or town halls.

“The reality is that an individual who is determined to discover a residential address of an adult law-abiding citizen is likely to be able to do so by one legal means or another, and where the person concerned is the holder of a public office and in the public eye, such an inquiry is likely to be easier.”

The Tribunal already concluded that if MPs have a “special security reason” for keeping their address secret, “for example, because of a problem with a stalker or a terrorist or other criminal threat”, then the address may be kept secret.

The High Court gave the Speaker and his committee until 1pm on Tuesday to decide whether to appeal and to submit outline arguments. An appeal judge must then decide by the end of next week whether the case has any chance of going forward.

If the Speaker decides not to appeal, or the appeal judge throws out Parliament’s latest attempts to block or delay the ruling, then detailed expenses of the 14 MPs, including addresses, must be disclosed by 4pm on Friday.

The 14 MPs include Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, David Cameron, Sir Menzies Campbell, George Osborne and John Prescott.

The Information Commissioner, who deals with appeals on Freedom of Information cases in the first instance, indicated that they would treat this tribunal as setting a significant precedent.

Graham Smith, Deputy Information Commissioner, said: “The High Court ruling brings clarity and will serve as a useful point of reference for the Information Commissioner’s Office in the consideration of future cases under the Freedom of Information Act.”

Heather Brooke, the information rights campaigner who along with the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph have fought for disclosure, said: “It’s not right that a citizen is forced to fight so hard for such a basic level of democratic accountability from our elected representatives. All the while MPs have used taxpayer money to pursue this case through the courts just so they can avoid being accountable to their constituents for how they spend public money. They should be ashamed.”

24 Responses to “Times coverage of hearing”

  1. oc says:

    I think that whilst asking for details of expenses is acceptable, it is disgraceful to ask Members of Parliament to publicise their home addresses. Would you be willing to post yours up?

  2. BVM says:

    MP’s addresses are already in the public domain – as is yours, oc. Pop along to your local library or town/city hall and take a look. As the Times article states, MPs are required to give out their primary address when seeking election – this is surely as much a risk to their “security” as giving out any 2nd address (which as stated can already be readily found).

    Therefore to claim a further listing of such addresses is “disgraceful” suggests you are missing the point, or simply trying to stir up feelings against this initiative.

    The fact is, “security” has become a convenient blanket for those in public office to cover a multitude of activities. Non-disclosure of such addresses makes verifying the transparency of claims relating to 2nd homes that much harder.

    At the end of the day, these people are in public office, and to retain the faith of the nation, they need to demonstrate transparency in all their activities. And to answer your question, given _my_ address is already in the public domain, I would see little problem in seeing this information re-listed elsewhere.

  3. June Gibson says:

    In my view it is not disgraceful. The addresses are hardly a secret as neighbours and
    many people roundabout, as well as their constituents, will know who lives at a house.
    MPs will be on electoral rolls and (or should be) on CT records.
    Also, it is “just deserts” as many second homes have been proved to be unnecessary and
    that is what is being argued about. MPs should not have abused the system, i.e. the funding
    of government by the taxpayers.

    Our own private addresses are not all that private either. If our home addresses (many
    having been lost and could be available to all and sundry) are known to government
    departments it is fair that MPs addresses are known. They fought so hard out of other
    peoples’ pockets to keep secret their profligacy.
    An excellent result.

  4. APL says:

    oc: “it is disgraceful to ask Members of Parliament to publicise their home addresses.”

    Do you not read? The address of a member of Parliament is already in the public domain.

    Congratulations Heather.

  5. David Newton says:

    “I think that whilst asking for details of expenses is acceptable, it is disgraceful to ask Members of Parliament to publicise their home addresses. Would you be willing to post yours up?”

    You obviously have not read the ruling. That argument has been considered and dismissed. Many, many, many people are willing to publicise their home addresses. Anyone who appears in the phone book is willing for example. As the ruling states there are also many cases of statute requiring disclosure of home addresses in publicly accessible registers.

  6. pounce says:

    OC writes;
    “I think that whilst asking for details of expenses is acceptable, it is disgraceful to ask Members of Parliament to publicise their home addresses. Would you be willing to post yours up?”

    Have a look at what the 14 MPs are fighting against.
    “The Commons Speaker, Michael Martin, today lost a high court battle to prevent the disclosure of the details of second-home expenses claimed by 14 prominent MPs.”
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2008/may/16/houseofcommons

    Sometimes it helps to know the full story before you berate others.

  7. John L Bell says:

    As a tax paying citizen, I want to know EXACTLY where the revenue from MY taxes are being spent.
    Scams involving the misappropriation of tax revenue by MPs as part of their remuneration package have been shown to be
    more than infrequent. Has anyone checked that the vast sums ‘claimed’ (apparently as some self appointed right) by
    our political servants are actually spent following the approved guidelines, inadequate as they are!)

  8. John Swainson says:

    This is a milestone judgement on the path to an open, more transparent and, hopefully, less corrupt political system.
    As many others have commented elsewhere politicians are servants of the public who elect them and, as such, must be
    fully accountable to those who elect and pay them. Moreover the greater the transparency and consequential probity and
    integrity we require of the politicians we elect to manage the nation’s affairs on our behalf the better the example we set
    of the standards we expect from people in business too.

    With respect to the comment by ‘oc’ on the matter of publicising MP’s addresses, as the judgement makes clear, when an MP
    stands for election they have to disclose their address. It is right that the electorate should know where their
    representative resides, not least because this can help to expose when elected representatives may have an interest that
    conflicts with the exprseeed interest of their electorate.

  9. Bob Katsamas says:

    Typing error perhaps? The judges must have dismissed Parliament’s attempts as “wholy UNreasonable”

  10. Liam says:

    Doh, we pay for MPs’ houses, we don’t pay for Heather’s. Therein is the major difference.

  11. gordon taylor says:

    Taxpayers have paid for MP`s second homes. When sold the money should be returned back to the Taxpayer, not pocketed by the MPs which is what happens at present. In addition they should have to re-pay legal expenses used in trying to conceal the facts.

  12. Ben Bamber says:

    Yes, I would – it is nothing more than is obtainable from the electoral roll anyway!
    How does the Govt put it? Let me see, “Those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear!”

    Well done Heather, please keep up the good work!

  13. FallenNinja says:

    Truly, what has actually been accomplished here? Greater transparency, I doubt it, more accountability, nope. These guys are expert in spin, deflection and misdirection, do you not think that they will simply find different ways of fiddling their expenses? This ruling has no value at all.

    Total waste of taxpayers money when there are really much bigger fish to fry.

  14. Clare says:

    Never mind disclosing where these MPs live, it is an absolute disgrace that taxpayers have been paying for these second home allowances for MPs, which, at a later date they can sell at a huge profit. Its an even bigger disgrace and a huge admission of guilt that the MPs tried to prevent the extent of the expenses becoming public knowledge. Why have we never looked in to this before? Well done Heather – the average person in the street is getting very, very sick of the takers in this country and we’re right behind you.

  15. John L Bell says:

    Re: FallenNinja’s comment.

    I used to believe that they (MPs) were ‘untouchable’ by the law, no matter what they did! Not any more!

    Greater transparency will lead to greater accountability and , with a bit of luck, the slamming of cell doors behind those MPs who have ‘diverted’
    your taxes and mine, without any reference to the taxpayer, into their own pockets …… or the pockets of their families…… ex wives….. etc etc.

  16. Ben Bamber says:

    But Ninja, with that approach they would not just have their ‘snouts in the trough’, they would take the trough home! I believe there should be a National Campaign wherebye all of us start demanding expenditure details and ‘family employment’ details from them. It’s just a matter of using the FOI act, and then contacting your local / national paper. In fact, hopefully Heather will suggest a way of forming a National Society or something! Think of the publicity, and our Lords and Masters would have to comply with the requests because its the law!

  17. Ian Gow says:

    Clearly the risk of MPs being attacked at their homes is exaggerated. I cannot think of a single instance where this has happened over the last twenty years or so. They are simply using the security excuse to protect themselves from scrutiny.

  18. Tom says:

    “Clearly the risk of MPs being attacked at their homes is exaggerated. I cannot think of a single instance where this has happened over the last twenty years or so.”

    Perhaps that’s because their home addresses are pretty difficult to come by.

    You can find an MP’s address by looking on the electoral roll, assuming you know which constituency they are registered in (and they’re not all registered in their own). It is also published on various official electoral documents, which are in circulation for a few weeks every 4-5 years. In other words, it is technically in the public domain, but pretty difficult to get hold of. If you don’t believe me, have a go at seeing how easy it is to find the genuine home address of any random backbench MP.

    MPs are vulnerable to attack from random nutters (Nigel Jones, whose assistant was killed), people with a political grudge (various missile-throwers at public meetings, etc) and terrorists. Mostly, it is their comparative anonymity which protects them from getting hassled or attacked when they are out and about in public. Making their home addresses freely available on the Internet can only increase that vulnerability. It would be perfectly possible to hold MPs to account adequately without publishing their precise home addresses, for example, by disclosing in which Parliamentary constituency the property in question is.

  19. Nick says:

    Publishing an MP’s home address to one person (even a journalist) as part of the response to an FoI request does not automatically mean that it will be plastered all over the internet. As Heather will no doubt confirm, copyright, data protection and other restrictions apply to FoI responses, so you can’t simply do whatever you like with them.

    Is Ben Leapman really going to put all the addresses on the Telegraph website when he gets them, without the Telegraph’s own lawyers having a wobble about the Data Protection Act? Doubt it.

  20. Tom says:

    But the Data Protection Act does not apply to date acquired under an FoI disclosure. The FoIA provides that personal data is exempt from disclosure, which was part of the basis of the Commons’ appeal over the addresses. Once the Commons has disclosed the addresses under the Act, anybody who has the information can do whatever he or she likes with it. And if it is established in principle that the Commons has to provide the information, then anybody can write and request a full list of addresses for every MP. It will only be a matter of time before this information is indeed plastered all over the internet.

  21. Nick says:

    That’s not quite how the DPA and FoI inter-relate, and this point “Once the Commons has disclosed the addresses under the Act, anybody who has the information can do whatever he or she likes with it” is simply not the case, as one example of processing personal data (e.g., replying to an FoI request) is not the same as another example (e.g., a burglar alarm company turning the MPs’ addresses into a mailing list).

    All this is by-the-by anyway, as both the Tribunal and the High Court left open the possibility of MPs withholding their home addresses (a) if there were specific security or other personal concerns, or (b) if the Commons administration came up with its own system of checking the veracity of claims for particular addresses, so that there would be no legitimate interest in making these public available.

  22. Tom says:

    But once the information has been disclosed under FoI, the person to whom it has been disclosed is not bound by the DPA in respect of that data. The Tribunal has effectivele ruled that the MPs’ home addresses are *not* “personal data” within the meaning of the Data Protection Act. If they were, then they would clearly be exempt from disclosure under s. 40 of the FoIA.

    In any case, since the Commons is now going to disclose the information, we can wait and see how long it takes to get onto the Internet.

  23. Nick says:

    Nope, the Tribunal ruled that the home addresses *are* personal data (see para. 51), but their disclosure in this case complies with s.40, because it’s within the scope of condition 6 in Schedule 2 to the DPA (“necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests pursued by the data controller or by the third party or parties to whom the data are disclosed”).

    Any subsequent use of the data would also have to comply with condition 6 – it wouldn’t automatically be deemed to be compliant.

  24. Tom says:

    In which case I haven’t read the ruling closely enough.

    But the Tribunal has based its decision in part on the fact that the addresses are already (notionally) in the public domain. The ruling requires the Commons authorities to supply the home addresses (with certain exeptions for security reasons) to anybody who asks for them. Journalism is in any case one of the “special purposes” which is exempt from most of the DPA under s. 32. How is anybody who obtains the addresses under FoI and publishes them contravening the DPA?

Leave a Reply