UK Liberty

What they didn’t want you to know

Posted in freedom of information, politicians on liberty by ukliberty on May 27, 2008

Heather Brooke in the Times (also writes at Your Right To Know):

Michael Martin, the Speaker, has sanctioned the expenditure at least £200,000 of taxpayer’s money preventing the public from finding out how public money is spent. Even now, we must wait until the Autumn for a full breakdown of individual claims and receipts for all MPs’ allowances.MPs seem to live in a different world to the rest of us. Where the director of a business must declare his home address in Companies House, MPs believe theirs should be kept secret. Where the Inland Revenue requires employees to provide receipts for all claims and keep those records for six years, MPs don’t have to produce receipts for any claims under £250. While MPs have passed new laws that demand not just our addresses but our health records, emails, phone messages and DNA, they have the gall to demand secrecy for how they spend public money. …

On Friday, we found out what they were so desperate to hide. Tony Blair and his successor Gordon Brown spent almost £15,000 of taxpayers’ money between them getting new kitchens while Barbara Follett, the wife of millionaire novelist Ken Follett, claimed more than £1,600 for window cleaning at her London home at £94-a-pop. Blair was once threatened with debt collectors for failing to pay his water bill while Margaret Beckett put through a claim for nearly £2000 for her garden in Derby while living in a taxpayer-funded flat at Admiralty House, London. …

It is shaming that in the ‘mother of parliaments’ I had to fight so long for so basic a level of accountability. If MPs were smart, they would realise that being open with citizens is the best way of re-establishing trust in Parliament. It is also the best way of ensuring those going into politics do so because they actually want to serve the public rather than as a means to plunder the state for its resources and privileges.

The battle is far from over. The Commons continues to refuse my other FOI requests for a full breakdown of MPs Incidental Expenses and the names and salaries of MPs’ staff. Bob Russell, a Conservative MP [um no, he’s a Lib Dem!], was last week so incensed by the High Court’s ruling that he tabled an early day motion [EDM 1623] demanding the addresses of all judges to be published.

Jon Ungoed-Thomas and Steven Swinford in the Times:

In an imposing residential block with its own swimming pool, gym complex and 24-hour concierge is a flat that has earned some notoriety in Westminster.

To date, Ann Keen, the health minister, and her husband Alan, who is also an MP, have used two mortgages and more than £100,000 of public funds to help pay for it.

The flat on the south bank of the Thames is just a short stroll from the Houses of Parliament and was bought by the Keens — dubbed “Mr and Mrs Expenses” by Westminister wags — for £500,000.

The couple funded its purchase in May 2002 with a mortgage on the flat and an additional loan on their family home in Brentford, west London. They then claimed the interest payments for both mortgages back on parliamentary expenses. …

So of course the Commons is going to change the system, make it easier to understand and manage, and MPs more accountable, isn’t it? Is it @&$£!

MPs hope to stop details of their expense claims being made public by changing the system so that they do not have to submit receipts.

Days after the High Court ordered the publication of every receipt submitted by MPs, a committee reviewing parliamentary expenses is proposing that they should be able to claim the full £23,000 second-home allowance automatically as an annual “block grant”.

This would end the principle whereby MPs are compensated only for “costs incurred” and give nearly 250 MPs who claim less than £23,000 a substantial tax-free income boost. …

Entirely the media’s fault that trust in politicians is low though, isn’t it?!

MPs seem to live in a different world to the rest of us.

Quite.

But they aren’t all the same:

The changes are likely to run into trouble with the Committee on Standards in Public Life, which said: “The system for claiming costs incurred by Members of Parliament should be based on the reimbursement of actual expenses, not on entitlement to ‘allowances’. Members of Parliament should be as open and transparent as possible about their expenditure and the claims they make on public funds.”

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