On the 16th of May 2008 the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses must be published under the Freedom of Information Act.
Tomorrow (Thursday) ministers were poised to exempt all MPs and peers from having to publish details of their expenses, only weeks before MPs were due to be forced to disclose more than 1.2 million receipts covering claims for the last three years.
The proposed changes were contained in a parliamentary order released at the same time as the government announced proposals to build a third Heathrow runway, compensate policyholders at Equitable Life and MPs debated the crisis in Gaza.
MPs in both parties have already been embarrassed by disclosures under the FOI about their expenditure. Examples released last year included Margaret Beckett, now the housing minister, claiming £1,920 for plants and pergola for her Derbyshire constituency home and the Labour MP for Stevenage, Barbara Follett, claiming £1,600 for cleaning the windows of her London home. The move was not unanimously supported by ministers. It is understood that Jack Straw, the justice secretary, who is responsible for freedom of information legislation, objected to the move but was overruled by Harman, the deputy leader of the Labour party.
++++UPDATE: Tonight in parliament the Labour government have shelved the plans to keep MPs expenses secret. This was following a huge web protest organised by MySociety. MySociety is a charity, free from any political control working towards improving democracy and the democratic process. To read more click here.+++
How has this happened?
‘…This is a huge victory not just for transparency, it’s a bellwether for a change in the way politics works. There’s no such thing as a good day to bury bad news any more, the Internet has seen to that.
Over 7000 people joined a Facebook group, they sent thousands of emails to over 90% of all MPs. Hundreds of thousands of people found out about the story by visiting TheyWorkForYou to find something they wanted to know, reading an email alert, or simply discovered what was going on whilst checking their Facebook or Twitter pages. Almost all of this happened, from nowhere, within 48 hours, putting enough pressure on Parliament to force change.
Make no mistake. This is new, and it reflects the fact that the Internet generation expects information to be made available, and they expect to be able to make up their own minds, not be spoon fed the views of others. This campaign was always about more than receipts, it was about changing the direction of travel, away from secrecy and towards openness.
Today we stopped moving in the wrong direction. Tomorrow we start moving the right way.’ Tom Steinberg – MySociety