Page last updated at 15:49 GMT, Tuesday, 31 March 2009 16:49 UK

Speaker anger over expenses leaks

Speaker Michael Martin
Mr Martin's report on expenses had been due in the autumn

The Commons Speaker has said he is "deeply disappointed" at apparent leaks of the details of MPs expenses.

Michael Martin said the processing of 1.3m MPs' expenses receipts was outsourced ahead of their release this summer to a contractor "in good faith".

He said a Commons committee would investigate whether data protection laws had been violated and whether a crime had been committed.

A Labour MP has said receipts are being offered for sale for up to £300,000.

'Hawked around'

The matter was raised in Parliament by Conservative MP Julian Lewis who expressed concerns that personal information such as MPs' addresses and banking details were being "hawked around" for commercial gain.

Mr Martin said the confidentiality and security of MPs personal information was paramount.

He said Parliament had employed a contractor to process the 1.3 million receipts, due for publication this summer under Freedom of Information regulations, and the firm was "security vetted".

"I am deeply disappointed that any information has been put out," he said.

Sir Stuart Bell: "We will get to the bottom of it"

"No-one in that organisation either for financial gain or any other reason should be handing over information that has been put and safeguarded with them."

He added: "The House has started an inquiry to establish the facts relating to the release of personal documentation and to determine whether an offence has been committed."

In the wake of a string of newspaper allegations about MP's expenses, Prime Minister Gordon Brown has suggested scrapping MPs' controversial second-home payment.

As questions continue about MPs' claims the Committee on Standards in Public Life said it would speed up its review.

It had planned to start its investigation later this year but the leaders of the three biggest political parties had all called for it to be brought forward so it could recommend changes before the next election.

Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell's suggestion that details of MPs' expenses claims were being offered for sale by comes after weekend revelations that Home Secretary Jacqui Smith "mistakenly" claimed for adult movies watched by her husband.

Sir Stuart told BBC Radio 4's Today on Tuesday: "All of the receipts of 650-odd MPs, redacted and un-redacted, are for sale at a price of £300,000, so I am told.

"The price is going up because of the interest in the subject."

It may be a theft, but we will get to the bottom of it. In the public interest
Sir Stuart Bell

Asked who was trying to sell the information, Sir Stuart replied: "Well we have a pretty good idea of not the person, but the source, and that is a subject of a House of Commons investigation."

"It's probably a breach of the Official Secrets Act," Sir Stuart said. "It may be a theft, but we will get to the bottom of it. In the public interest, by the way."

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We don't believe that the newspapers will buy all of the 655 for £300,000, but they may wish to take say 10 senior MPs in the limelight and then there'll be a drip-drip of their expenses."

Sir Stuart added that all three of the main political parties should commit to reform of MPs' expenses in their manifestos for the next general election.

The details revealed of expenses claims have prompted calls for a reform of the additional costs allowance - known as the second-home allowance - which covers up to £23,083 of the cost of an MP staying away from their main residence to perform their parliamentary duties.



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