Page last updated at 17:01 GMT, Tuesday, 22 January 2008

MP expenses 'should be published'

MPs claimed an average of 135, 600 each last year

A detailed breakdown of expenses claimed by six MPs, including Gordon Brown, must be published, Information Commissioner Richard Thomas has ruled.

MPs claim on average 135,600 each but under general headings - like staffing allowances and "incidental expenses".

The BBC made a Freedom of Information Act request for details in 2005 but it was rejected by Commons authorities.

They argued information was personal to MPs and staff, but Mr Thomas said there was "legitimate public interest".

The ruling relates to the details of six MPs' spending between April 2003 and March 2004, but is likely to set a precedent for all MPs.

The legitimate public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the prejudice to the rights, freedom and legitimate interests of MPs
Information Commissioner's office

The BBC request covered details of spending by then PM Tony Blair, then deputy PM John Prescott, Mr Brown, former Tory leader Michael Howard, former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy and former Tory MP Jonathan Sayeed.

At the time the request was made Mr Sayeed had been expelled from the Conservative Party over claims he profited from tours. He was later rebuked for improperly claiming housing allowances.

The Commons authorities had refused to release the information, arguing that it was personal and could identify regular routes travelled by MPs - exposing them to a security risk.

Travel breakdown

But in a statement the Information Commissioner's office said: "In the commissioner's view the legitimate public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the prejudice to the rights, freedom and legitimate interests of MPs."

The Commons authorities now have 28 days to publish the information or appeal against the ruling.

It goes much wider than previous rulings - such as last year's decision that a detailed breakdown of all travel expenses must be published, which was the result of a long campaign by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker.

This ruling covers travel, incidental expenses, staffing, central IT provision, centrally purchased stationary and additional cost allowances.

But the information commissioner said while a monthly breakdown of staffing costs and number of employees should be divulged, it would not be fair to name staff.

And he noted that purely personal expenses were not reimbursed from public money - only those claimed in relation to their public office, such as the requirement to live near Westminster, as well as in their constituency.

MPs' expenses are published, but under general headings with few details. The last year for which figures are available shows MPs claimed a total of 87.6m in expenses - an average of about 135,600 claimed per MP, on top of their 60,000 salary.

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