MPs defeated in battle for secrecy over their second-home ex

BBC TV news reported yesterday evening that in considering and then rejecting the application that the addresses of MPs should be withheld on 'security grounds', the judge heard evidence that one MP was claiming expenses on a property that did not exist while another was sub-letting the property against which he was claiming!

In the meantime, the general public are subjected to a different standard here and here!

But we're on to them!!

Nevertheless, the full judgment of the High Court is linked below:

Corporate Officer of the House of Commons v The Information Commissioner & Ors [2008] EWHC 1084 (Admin)

After an examination of the legislative structure of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, the court turned it's attention at para 14 to the The findings of the Information Tribunal which had examined the allowances culture which MPs had created for themselves, observing that the culture was very different from that which exists in the commercial sector and most other public sector organisations which

"coupled with the very limited nature of the checks" the system as operated constituted a recipe for confusion, inconsistency and the risk of misuse. Seen in relation to the public interest that public money should be, and be seen to be properly spent, the Tribunal found that the ACA system was deeply unsatisfactory, and its shortcomings both in terms of transparency and accountability were acute..."

Unsurprising, given the findings of fact at sub-paragraphs 1 - 33 of paragraph 32 and the finding at paragraph 33 of the Tribunal's report (supra) this part of the tribunal's finding was not challenged on appeal to the High Court.

MPs thought that the only details that would ever see the light of day were to totals of their expenses. They did not expect to see any precise itemised breakdown on what, how when and where they spent public money. This is rather curious since the same MPs are also members of the legislature. They (in theory at least) scrutinise the legislative proposals presnted to them in Parliament, read or attend the committees and tend their votes on the clauses in a Bill throughout it's stages in the Commons. It is therefore surprising that they should hold what they regard, as a 'legitimate expectation' that such information was exempt from disclosure.

In response to the claim that MP's had a 'reasonable expectation' that certain information would not be disclosed to the public, the court held, at para 33:

...Once legislation which applies to Parliament has been enacted, MPs cannot and could not reasonably expect to contract out of compliance with it, or exempt themselves, or be exempted from its ambit. Such actions would themselves contravene the Bill of Rights, and it is inconceivable that MPs could expect to conduct their affairs on the basis that recently enacted legislation did not apply to them, or that the House, for its own purposes, was permitted to suspend or dispense with such legislation without expressly amending or repealing it. Any such expectation would be wholly unreasonable.."

In response to their claim that their private addresses amounted to 'personal data' and that it was concerned with their 'private and family life, the court held at para 41:

"...a residential address is an aspect of private life which may not be very private at all. So, for example, MPs are required to disclose an address when seeking nomination for election. This address is published in the electoral process. Usually it will be the constituency address of the candidate and its publication inevitably diminishes its private nature. Other professions and occupations may require notification of and public access to a residential address. Thus, company directors are required to provide a residential address available to those who search the register of companies. Everyone eligible to vote must have his or her address recorded in the register of electors, full versions of which are available for public scrutiny in local libraries and local government offices. The reality is that an individual who is determined to discover a residential address of an adult law-abiding citizen is likely to be able to do so by one legal means or another, and where the person concerned is the holder of a public office and in the public eye, such an inquiry is likely to be easier."

Essentially, a slack system of accounting depending for it's efficacy upon the collective conscience of MPs only works if you have MPs actually possessed of any kind of conscience. It is a system which brings to mind the words of the song by Tony Christie:

"...Where hustling's the name of the game. Where nice guy's get washed away like the snow in the rain.."

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