Page last updated at 21:58 GMT, Thursday, 18 June 2009 22:58 UK

Row over blacked out MP expenses

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

The decision to black out many of the details of MPs' expenses claims has been criticised by campaigners.

MPs' addresses and bank details are hidden in the claims and receipts published for the first time.

MPs voted to exempt their addresses from Freedom of Information on security grounds but campaigner Heather Brooke said it was to "avoid embarrassment".

Meanwhile, the amount of money repaid by MPs has increased to £478,616, the Commons authorities have confirmed.

More than 180 MPs, including nine Cabinet ministers, have repaid individual sums ranging from more than £40,000 to just £1.

Parliament has published all receipts in PDF files on its website, more than a month after the Daily Telegraph began publishing stories based on the full, uncensored claims which were leaked to it.

'Flipping' homes

It is a year since the Commons was ordered to publish all details - including second homes addresses - by the High Court under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, after a long battle.

The fact that addresses are not included means it is impossible to see if an MP "flipped" their second homes designation and claimed for several different properties - a key part of the Telegraph's revelations.

Ms Brooke, who was one of three people who brought the FOI case against the Commons, said what had been published was a "substandard version" of the receipts.


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

She said the addresses were "the only way to police effectively whether there is a second home and whether the mortgage exists" and the security argument had been "totally discredited".

"I can see that avoiding embarrassment has been the key motivating factor of what's been deleted," she added.

Maurice Frankel, of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, agreed it was a "very poor substitute".

He said partial postcodes could have been published, which would show if MPs were changing their designated second homes.

"The mood of the House of Commons was that they did not want any of this information to be published and, failing that, as little as possible," he said.

Veteran Labour MP Sir Stuart Bell said addresses had to be private but conceded some of the omissions looked "ridiculous" and it was up to Parliament to be far more open in future if it was to regain its credibility.

And Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman Vince Cable told the BBC: "Had it not been for the Daily Telegraph a lot of this stuff would not have come out."

He added: "It is compromised and therefore less effective than it should be."

But Sir Stuart Bell, a Labour MP who sits on the Commons Estimates Committee, said it was right that some details were protected and people could see how money had been spent.

It's got to be consistent of course with security but I think people have got to be as transparent as possible
Gordon Brown

He said the publication was "a remarkable achievement in terms of technology and in terms of being open with the public".

"What is blacked out is private information, bank account details, personal addresses, signatures and the suppliers' names and addresses, which is covered by the Data Protection Act," he told the BBC.

However shown an almost entirely blacked out page by the BBC later he said: "I think it's pathetic, I think it's unfortunate and I think it's officialdom and no MP would have authorised that. It simply adds to the discredit of the scandal of expenses."

In recent months, MPs have been able to look at the edited material and suggest further exclusions - with any disputes adjudicated by the Members Allowances Committee.

Among other information removed is the identity of people making deliveries and providing services to MPs homes, all rejected claims and all correspondence with the Fees Office.

Cameron claim

It means that Prime Minister Gordon Brown's claim for a Sky TV subscription was blacked out - even though it had been published a year earlier, also under FOI laws.

The prime minister told journalists he was not sure why it had been removed and he had not asked for it to be blacked out.

He added: "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."

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

Meanwhile Conservative leader David Cameron has said he will pay back an extra £267 - in addition to the £680 he had already said he would repay - after discovering an "inadvertent error" in his mortgage payments after what he calls a "thorough review" of his claims.

He said: "I am very sorry about making a mistake like this but I think the best thing to do when you discover it is to deal with it as quickly as possible."

He said he was pleased the information had been made public but added: "I think the public will be disappointed however with the amount of information that is held back or redacted.

"Of course there is some information like telephone numbers and bank account details that is very private but I think we need a more common sense approach to releasing this information and I hope we can do that in future."

The Daily Telegraph is planning to publish uncensored claims on Friday and Saturday - including rejected claims.

Assistant editor Benedict Brogan said its full unexpurgated version of MPs claims would provide a "stark contrast" with what had been published by Parliament and it would be up to the public to decide which was more "telling".



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