Information Tribunal rules MPs’ expenses system “deeply unsatisfactory”
The House of Commons has been ordered to provide a detailed breakdown of MPs’ second home expenses claims, after a lengthy Freedom of Information battle.
The current Additional Costs Allowance (ACA) system is “deeply unsatisfactory” the Information Tribunal ruled.
Well done to the Tribunal!
It said the “laxity” of rules on the allowance was “very different” from those in the private sector.
Commons resources boss Andrew Walker had argued publishing more details could intrude on MPs’ private lives.
But the tribunal ruled in favour of Freedom of Information campaigner Heather Brooke and two journalists – and ordered the Commons to release the information on 14 MPs – including Tony Blair, David Cameron and Gordon Brown – within 28 days.
Each MP can claim about £23,000 a year and can submit claims of up to £250 without a receipt and up to £400 a month for food.
The tribunal noted that the guidance available to MPs on what they can claim is “incomplete”, that MPs are not trusted to have access to the list of acceptable costs “lest the maximum allowable prices become the going rate” and there are no “additional” checks on what MPs claim.
In its ruling, the tribunal said it was not its job to say how the system should work, but it had to make a judgement on existing controls.
It said: “The laxity of and lack of clarity in the rules for ACA is redolent of a culture very different from that which exists in the commercial sphere or in most other public sector organisations today.”
It said that historically MPs were allowed to self-certify, but even if that was acceptable in “modern conditions” it was inadequate as MPs do not have access to a “coherent and comprehensive statement of their entitlements”.
It added: “In our judgment these features, coupled with the very limited nature of the checks, constitute a recipe for confusion, inconsistency and the risk of misuse.”
It said the current system was “deeply unsatisfactory” and suffered an “acute” shortfall in transparency and accountability.
A spokesman for the Members’ Estimates Committee (MEC), which deals with allowances on behalf of the Commons, said: “The MEC notes the tribunal’s decision and is taking legal advice.”
They could appeal to the High Court against the tribunal’s decision, which was itself the result of an appeal against a ruling by the Information Commissioner.
You can download the decision (1.75Mb PDF) – well worth reading – from Heather Brooke’s website, particularly for the submissions made by the house (see page 23), by which the Tribunal was “unimpressed”.
Note that three years have gone by since the original requests, and some of the information requested has since been destroyed!
It is a criminal offence to destroy information to which an applicant is entitled with the intention of preventing disclosure. Of course the destruction wasn’t deliberate in this instance! Of course…
I think these people forget that this is our money – money the taxpayer is obliged to forfeit in order to have good governance and public services.
Why should we be prevented from knowing where the money goes?
Mr Thomas and Mr Leapman used as an illustration the claims made by Mr Blair and Mrs Beckett during the periods when they lived in [grace and favour] accommodation provided by the Government. Given their living arrangements, what were their ACA claims actually for?
Well, quite. And we will never know.
We would require a great deal of persuading that there would be something wrong with allowing questions to be put to elected representatives over how they have spent public money.