Page last updated at 15:17 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 16:17 UK

MPs' expenses made public online

A redacted expenses claim
One of the expenses claim forms with key details blacked out

The expenses claims of every MP for the past four years have been published, but with some key details blacked out.

Commons authorities have published the details after a long-running Freedom of Information battle.

The addresses that claims relate to - and correspondence - have been removed on privacy and security grounds.

This means it is not possible to see if MPs "flipped" second homes - a key part of the Daily Telegraph's revelations from its leaked version of the data.

MPs have said some details, like addresses and travel patterns, have to be withheld for security reasons.

'Maximum transparency'

But other details have been removed in the official version such as Prime Minister Gordon Brown's claims for his Sky television subscription - despite the fact it was published last year, also under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

Mr Brown told a news conference: "I didn't choose to redact that and I don't quite understand all the rules that have been applied by the House of Commons itself who have been doing so.

Heather Brooke: 'Avoiding embarrassment has been the key motivating factor'

"My principle in this is the maximum transparency - it's got to be consistent of course with security but I think people have got to be as transparent as possible."

A Commons spokeswoman said it was removed because of amendments to FOI laws voted through by MPs in July 2008 to protect MPs' security by removing suppliers of services to home addresses.

Meanwhile David Cameron's office has told the BBC the Conservative leader would be paying back nearly £947 after a "thorough review" of his claims by his office.

This includes the £680 he had already said he would repay for maintenance and repairs to his property.

Embarrassment factor

His office said on looking again at the claims, he had noticed a £218 overclaim for mortgage interest, on a month he swapped mortgage providers and some smaller overpayments.

The Daily Telegraph's revelations, based on uncensored claims, have led to a slew of resignations from MPs.

On Wednesday Treasury minister Kitty Ussher stepped down amid reports that she changed the designation of her constituency home to avoid capital gains tax.

The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson said that if the full uncensored claims had not been leaked to the Telegraph, then MPs like Miss Ussher would still be in their jobs.

Among Daily Telegraph revelations that do not appear in the blacked out versions of MPs' receipts are:

  • Andrew MacKay - From the official receipts it would not have been possible to know the Tory MP claimed for a second home without having a main constituency home.
  • Margaret Moran - The Labour MP who claimed £22,000 for dry rot on her second home. The receipts do not show her second home was in Southampton -100 miles from her Luton constituency.
  • Sir Peter Viggers - Tory MP who tried to claim £1,645 for a "duck island", the official receipts show no evidence of the unsuccessful claim.
  • Hazel Blears - The former Labour minister claimed second home expenses for three different properties in a single year but the redacted receipts do not show this as addresses are blacked out.

Heather Brooke, one of the campaigners who brought the Freedom of Information case, told the BBC the official publication was a "substandard version".

She pointed out the High Court had ordered that second home addresses be published - two months later MPs voted to exempt their own addresses, travel plans and security bills from the FOI Act, arguing it would jeopardise their security.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I think we all know what the censoring is about, and it has nothing to do with "privacy and security grounds"
Guy Flowers, Sheffield

Ms Brooke said: "It's the only way to police effectively whether there is a second home and whether the mortgage exists."

She said the security argument had been "totally discredited" adding: "I can see that avoiding embarrassment has been the key motivating factor of what's been deleted."

But Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said the publication was "fully in conformity with the High Court decision" and claimed "private information" had been removed under the Data Protection Act.

He told the BBC Thursday's publication was "a remarkable achievement in terms of technology and in terms of being open with the public".

'Fair' argument

Cabinet minister Hilary Benn told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The argument for keeping bank details, phone numbers and addresses confidential I think is a fair one."

But he said the system needed to change: "That's why we've seen seismic changes, that's why Parliament has already taken steps to alter the rules why Christopher Kelly's committee will look at what the new system will be."

BLACKED OUT INFORMATION
Rejected claims
Any residential address
Regular travel patterns
Names of anyone delivering goods to homes
Money spent on security
Hotels or guest houses used
Letters/emails to Fees Office
Bank/credit card statements
Phone numbers on itemised bills
Personal items not claimed for
Staff names and addresses
Bank/Giro details
Landlord or mortgage provider
Photocopies of cheques
Signatures
Reference numbers ie NI

For the Conservatives, shadow Commons leader Alan Duncan said: "I think the black ink is justified where it is things like ex-directory phone numbers ... and personal details and bank accounts."

He said changes had been made to ensure MPs could not "play around with the second home address in order to extract as much money as possible out of the system".

But he said "at the very least" addresses should be properly audited and second homes designations should be "consistent".

More than a dozen MPs have said they plan to stand down since the furore over expenses began and many have had to repay money - more than £300,000 has been repaid.

Claims made by all 646 MPs under three different allowances since 2004 have been published alphabetically on the Parliament website with thousands of receipts made available in a series of PDF files.

Sensitive details

Last year, the Commons agreed to blank out certain information considered sensitive including addresses and all communications with the Fees Office. MPs have been able to suggest further exclusions.

It means practices unveiled by the Telegraph - such as MPs who switched the designation of their second homes and claimed for several properties over four years - are not revealed in the official version.

WITHIN THE RULES
£24,000-a-year Additional Costs Allowance, which covers the running of MPs' second homes
£22,193-a-year Incidental Expenses Provision, which pays for running an office
£10,400-a-year Communications Allowance, which funds websites, newsletters, stationery and postage

The furore has led to interim changes to the second homes allowance while the Committee of Standards in Public Life is holding an inquiry into expenses and will recommend changes to allowances rules.

Gordon Brown has said oversight of MPs' expenses must be handed over to an external regulator as part of a root and branch reform of Parliament.

The Daily Telegraph's assistant editor Andrew Pierce told the BBC they would publish the entire list of claims submitted by the cabinet on Friday and every MP's expenses on Saturday - to allow people to draw their own conclusions about what had been "censored".

"I suspect it could be that more MPs will be considering their position and maybe their party leaders will be considering whether they are really fit to be an MP," he said.



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