Work on MP expenses FoI release 'nearing completion'

Preparations for the long-awaited official release of MPs’ expenses receipts are “nearing completion”, Commons officials said today.

Liberal Democrat Nick Harvey, answering a parliamentary question on behalf of the ruling Commons Commission, said publication will take place “as soon as possible” after MPs seeking to have details of claims excluded from public disclosure have had appeals heard next week.

The release of the receipts follows a lengthy Freedom of Information legal battle and the unauthorised leaking of the details to the Daily Telegraph, sparking a scandal which has rocked Westminster.

In a reply to senior Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes, Harvey said: “Preparation for publication of Members’ allowances claims and supporting documentation from April 2004 until March 2008 is nearing completion.

“Final checks are being carried out, and any appeals by Members about the precise scope of what is included in the publication scheme are due to be heard and determined by the Committee on Members’ Allowances during the course of next week.

“Subject to testing the public internet access arrangements, publication will follow as soon as possible after that.”

The Commons authorities spent hundreds of thousands of pounds desperately fighting disclosure of receipt-level details of every MPs’ second homes claims under freedom of information laws.

However, following defeat in the courts and the failure of attempts to exempt Parliament from FOI retrospectively, preparations were started for publication of more than a million receipts – around 700,000 pages of material.

The information had been due for release next month, but that date was brought forward after the raw data was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.

Unlike the version obtained by the newspaper, the official disclosure will have addresses and any other material that could compromise members’ security or data protection removed.

Critics have pointed out that this would have prevented the public from ever finding out about tactics such as “flipping” – swapping second home designation to maximise expenses claims – or that some MPs were claiming thousands of pounds in interest for mortgages they had already paid off.

The expenses scandal has led to a number of high-profile resignations, with Home Secretary Jacqui Smith and Communities Secretary Hazel Blears both announcing that they will leave the Government following stories about their claims.

Andrew Mackay, an aide to Tory leader David Cameron, quit his post after his second homes claims were branded “unacceptable”, while his wife Julie Kirkbride also announced she would be stepping down.

Several other MPs have also decided not to contest the next election and there has been a rush to pay back money.

But that has not stopped MPs facing ridicule for items listed on expenses claims, such as moat clearing, manure, pet food and chocolate.

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