WOB value

Britain

 
28/05
2008

UK: MPs expenses transparent after court ruling

Heather Brooke, wobbing.eu-contributor and editor of wob-blog Your Right To Know won a huge wob-victory, when she got out the information about how much taxpayer's money members of the British Parliament spend on their second homes.

Here is her description from May 15th when she got the decision:

In their judgment handed down today at the High Court, the judges agreed with an earlier Information Tribunal ruling which criticised the Additional Costs Allowance system as ‘deeply unsatisfactory’ . The judges ordered disclosure of all receipts and claims of the 14 MPs in the original requests along with the addresses of their second homes.

This ruling makes clear that in a democracy it is the people who are the masters and politicians must be directly accountable to them. Anyone making a claim on the public purse must be prepared to put forward their receipts to justify their expenses and to make those receipts public.

I must thank my lawyers Hugh Tomlinson QC of Matrix Chambers and Louis Charalambous of Simons, Muirhead & Burton for helping me bring this case to its full conclusion. The legal team worked pro bono up till the Tribunal and then on a conditional fee agreement.

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 appeal 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.

I hope this decisive victory for freedom of information will finally make MPs realise what it means to be a public official in a democracy. As MPs so often tell us when they pass laws that invade our privacy and strip us of our civil rights – if you’ve nothing to fear, you have nothing to hide.

I am calling now on the House of Commons to adopt an expense system similar to that of the Scottish Parliament whereby all politicians’ expense claims are published online for any citizen to see.

The judges also ordered disclosure of the 14 MPs’ second home addresses - throwing out the Commons’ argument that a new level of secrecy should protect this information. Agreeing with Mr Tomlinson, the judges said the residential address of an MP was ‘not very private at all’ as MPs are required to disclose the address when seeking nomination for election and it is also published in the electoral register. They also pointed out that legislation requires many private citizens to make public their home address such as company directors whose address can be found in the register of companies. In addition everyone eligible to vote has his or her address recorded in the register of electors which can be viewed at local libraries and council offices.

There was a legitimate public need to disclose the address to verify that allowances claimed for second homes were legitimate – as there have been occasions in the past where MPs have claimed for second homes which either did not exist, were holiday homes, or were purchased as a private rental investment property.

The more MPs resist transparency the more they fall in the public’s esteem. Constituents are not content with the elitist and unaccountable old boys system that operates inside the Palace of Westminster. Drastic reform is needed to bring this institution into the 21st century.

Time for complete overhaul of the entire Parliamentary expense system: ALL MPs must provide receipts for ALL expenses and make those receipts public. If they are such cheapskates as to claim £1.20 from the public purse then they should be prepared to justify that to the taxpayer.

And a few more comments by Heather Brooke on the case as of today.

Apparently the MPs even considered to use European Human Rights legislation to prevent publication of how they spend tax-payers money, according to Scottisch Freedom of Information blog.

And Tony Blair's expenses? Shredded by accident - according to the same Scottish blog.

Brigitte Alfter & Heather Brooke
 

 

 
 
 

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