Commons climbdown on MPs' claims secrecy
THE House of Commons yesterday withdrew a High Court appeal to keep the details of a Scottish MP's travel expenses out of the public domain, paving the way for the breakdown of all Westminster MPs' expenses.
Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, had ruled Anne Moffatt, the MP for East Lothian, should submit her receipts for scrutiny.
Ms Moffatt's 40,000 travel claims in 2003 triggered two requests for a breakdown of her costs under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.
But the Commons blocked the request, despite Mr Thomas's ruling that releasing the details would not breach privacy rights under the Data Protection Act.
Commons authorities then lodged an appeal against the order for the release of the travel claims with the High Court, but last night confirmed they had abandoned the fight.
MSPs must submit receipts which are available for public scrutiny, but the Westminster system is far less transparent. MPs have fought attempts to force them to break down their costs, voting to exempt themselves from the FOI Act.
A spokeswoman for the Commons said: "An appeal was lodged with the High Court. After further consideration, this has now been withdrawn."
A spokesman for Mr Thomas welcomed the decision, adding that the public had the right to know about taxpayer-funded travel.
"The journeys for which an MP may claim reimbursement relate to official business and are therefore paid for out of public funds," the spokesman said.
"The public has a right to know how public money is spent by politicians and public officials.
"MPs' travel expenses relate to individuals acting in an official, rather than a private, capacity and in the Information Commissioner's view, disclosure of this information will not impinge an MP's personal privacy."
Yesterday, MPs' expenses for travel, office costs, staff and away-from-home allowances, as well as postage costs, were released, showing MPs claimed 87.6 million last year - a like-for-like rise of around 5 per cent on the previous 12 months.
Two ministers topped the list. Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury and International Development Minister, claimed the most at 185,421.
He was followed by Home Office Minister Liam Byrne, the MP for Birmingham Hodge Hill, who claimed 178,116.
The highest-claiming Scot was Frank Doran, chairman of the administration committee which considers the services provided by the House of Commons for MPs.
The Aberdeen North MP claimed 171,836 on top of his salary, giving him the sixth-highest ranking in the Commons.
The figures average out at about 135,600 an MP, on top of their basic salary of 59,686 and pension.
Scots MPs usually rank among the most expensive due to high travel costs from remote constituencies.
This year, Eric Joyce, Labour's Falkirk MP who topped the list two years in a row, just managed to escape the top ten. But his individual travel costs of more than 33,000 were still the second highest.
• Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister, yesterday pledged the government would be more open in dealing with FOI requests. He also launched a three-month public consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act to private firms.
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