Jack Straw (The Leader of the House) answered a question at the Downing St Press Coneference yesterday about non disclosure under FOI of full details of MPs expenses:
Afternoon press briefing for 19 October 2006
Freedom of InformationAsked why attempts to obtain full disclosure of MPs' expenses had been blocked, Mr Straw said that was for the same reason as the BBC, as another public authority, resisted a number of FOI requests in respect of the Corporation. The Act's structure fully entitled public authorities to do so, where it was reasonable to claim an exemption. The whole point of the Act was that it was balanced, providing the right to information and providing rights to a public authority to exemptions to it. Asked why it was "reasonable" in this case, the Leader said a great deal of information was now published in respect of the amounts that MPs were paid. There was a point beyond which it came, in the judgement of the House of Commission, within the exemptions. The questioner pointed out the contrast with the Scottish Parliament, the US and other countries. Mr Straw said it was a matter for the Scottish Parliament to make its own decisions.
It was suggested to the Leader that, when the Scottish parliament had published the information, there had been a huge drop in the level of travel expenses. He was asked if he was confident that no MPs were "basically fiddling the system." Mr Straw said there was now substantial disclosure of the totals of individual MP's travel costs. Before the introduction of the FOI, no information had been released about the amounts claimed by MPs, including the allowances for running their offices, staff and travel costs. In addition, there were substantial arrangements in place to ensure that MPs did observe the rules, including a new upgraded arrangement which involved computer proof of the use of travel funds and the provision of a certificate at the end of each month.
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