18 Oct 2012

New MPs’ expenses row

A row is brewing over the publication of details of MPs’ home rental arrangements as a newspaper report claims security concerns may block any revelations.

Commons speaker John Bercow (Getty)

The Commons Speaker John Bercow has written to the regulator asking it not to release documents revealing the identities of MPs’ landlords for security reasons, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper said disclosure would expose the extent to which MPs are taking advantage of a “loophole” which allows them to rent properties to each other.

Mr Bercow was said to have written to the independent parliamentary standards authority (Ipsa) warning that its plan to reveal the identities of MPs’ landlords had given rise to “grave concerns” about security.

But Mr Bercow’s office told Channel 4 News it is not privy to information on MPs’ rental arrangements, that responsibility having been removed from it in 2010. It said ultimately, the decision to reveal the information rests with Ipsa as the freedom of information request was made to it and it is responsible for policing expenses claims.

The Daily Telegraph said the concession meant MPs could still build up property nest eggs at the taxpayer’s expense, despite moves to stamp out the practice follow the expenses scandal.

Right to know

The Telegraph quoted the letter as saying: “The processing of the data… could involve causing unwarranted damage and distress. I should be grateful if you and your colleagues would reconsider such a plan.”

Freedom of information campaigner Heather Brooke told Channel 4 News: “Parliament put up this argument that publishing addresses would be ‘dangerous’ in my High Court case back in 2008.

They argued that public officials would be ‘endangered’ if the public knew knew where they lived.”

Labour MP John Mann said: “If MPs are renting from past or current MPs it is right and proper the public is able to know that,” he told the paper.

“There is nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing wrong in it being out there in the open. I have no problem in MPs renting it (a flat) out but the public is entitled to know that.”

A spokesman for Ipsa told the Telegraph: “We are committed to transparency as is shown by our regular publication of all claims by all MPs. We have a duty to balance that against the risk of compromising security.

“We are currently going through the process of gathering all the relevant information to get that judgment right.”