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MPs vote for secrecy as expenses system spins out of control

In recent weeks the press, in particular The Times and the Daily Mail, have carried news items concerning the manner in which MPs are exploiting the system of allowances and expenses to provide themselves with goodies that many would think have little to do with the effective exercise of their duties as a Member of Parliament. We reproduce these stories here as clear evidence of the urgent need to bring our MPs back under control and to impose upon them a regime of Online Registers of their expenses so that we can begin to curb these disgraceful excesses.

These stories come at a time when David Maclean MP (Conservative Penrith & Border) has been steering through Parliament the Freedom Of Information (Amendment) Bill 2007. Ostensibly a private member's bill (such bills are notoriously difficult get onto the Statute Book due to constraints of time and the ability of the Government to hinder their passage), this Bill in fact has major support for a Bill of its kind from Labour in general and members of the Government in particular, notably eleven out of thirteen government whips. In addition the Bill seemed to benefit from some very generous rulings from the Deputy Speaker on 18th. May 2007 at the Third Reading of the Bill. For more on this Bill, see below.

 The Sunday Times, 20th. May 2007

Secrecy MP got quad bike on expenses

The Conservative MP behind moves to exempt MPs from freedom of information legislation bought a £3,300 quad bike on parliamentary expenses.

David Maclean, the author of a private member’s bill to restricting voters’ rights to details of individual MPs’ pay and allowances, was granted permission by the Commons authorities to charge his top of the range all-terrain vehicle to taxpayers.

Maclean, a former Tory chief whip, has multiple sclerosis and argues that it is the most efficient way of getting round parts of his rural constituency. But the disclosure that he was able to claim the 250cc bike on expenses will fuel the row over his new legislation, which was voted through by MPs last week.

Critics have attacked Maclean’s bill as a deliberate attempt to stop the public obtaining embarrassing details of MPs’ expenses claims and fear the measures will further undermine public trust in politicians.

Maclean has defended the purchase, insisting he has nothing to hide. The 54-year-old walks with the aid of a shepherd’s crook and says the alternative would be a mobility scooter, which would not be as practical for attending events in his Penrith and Borders constituency.

Speaking to The Mail on Sunday, he said: “Yes, I do have a quad bike, and yes, I have bought it on expenses. I asked if I was eligible for it, and was told yes.”

Official figures show that last year Maclean claimed a total of £129,700 in Commons allowances – around the average figure for MPs – on top of his £59,000 basic salary. The sum includes £6,969 for motoring and £8,561 for train travel.

Of the quad bike he said: “I have the biggest constituency in the country and I attend several big agricultural shows throughout the year. I can take it anywhere. I could use a mobility scooter I suppose, but it would probably get stuck.”

Maclean argues that his new laws are needed to protect confidential correspondence between MPs and their constituents.

However, such correspondence is already covered by the Data Protection Act. According to Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP who has led opposition to Maclean’s bill, the information commissioner has not received a single complaint from an MP’s constituent about the inappropriate release of correspondence, and the Commons’ library has no records of such complaints.

Gordon Brown is facing fierce criticism for failing to discourage Labour MPs from supporting Maclean’s measures. Several ministers backed the bill, which was fiercely opposed by the Liberal Democrats.

However, the chancellor will act to prevent the government introducing new restrictions on freedom of information requests proposed by Lord Falconer. The prime minister in waiting has serious reservations about proposals to make it more difficult for the public to obtain access to government documents.

He has already intervened to delay the plans proposed by Falconer, the constitutional affairs secretary, by ordering the measures to be subjected to a lengthy public consultation.

Although sources close to Brown insist “no decisions” have been made, they made clear his disapproval of any moves to curb open government.

Despite his failure to act over Maclean’s bill, the chancellor’s allies insist he remains fully committed to government openness, despite recent embarrassment over secret Treasury papers released under the act. The documents suggested Brown ignored advice when he abolished tax relief on pension funds.

There were more than 38,000 freedom of information requests in 2005, costing public bodies millions of pounds. Falconer has said he wants to block “the most difficult” requests by introducing a flat fee to “inhibit serial requesters”.


Fish tanks and iPods ... what MPs claim on their allowances

MEMBERS of parliament are using their taxpayer-funded expense accounts to buy iPods, plasma screen televisions and even, in one case, a fish tank, insiders have alleged.

Finance administrators have been approving a wide array of executive gadgets despite widespread public concern about abuses of the parliamentary expenses system. MPs routinely claim thousands of pounds a year without having to produce receipts or other evidence that they have made any purchases.

MPs have also remortgaged their homes to release thousands of pounds and then used their allowances to cover the repayments.

The names of MPs who have received the extravagant items have not been revealed but one well-placed insider said: “There has been a successful claim for a very expensive, large plasma television and for a fish tank. After discussion among officials in the fees office, both were waved through.

“Also, in the run-up to Christmas last year, a lot of MPs suddenly started claiming for iPods. The system really is outrageous.”

An official review into MPs’ pay, pensions and allowances, due to report to the prime minister later this month, is now expected to call for a tightening of the expenses rules.

Despite heavy lobbying from senior MPs, including Jack Straw, the Commons leader, the senior salaries review board (SSRB) is expected to call for a new “structure” for the payment of expenses to ensure that the necessary safeguards are in place.

This weekend John Baker, chairman of the SSRB, declined to comment on his forthcoming recommendations. But he said: “We read about them [abuses] with interest and ask ourselves whether the structure of expenses is appropriate. We have received evidence on the topic.”

The row over the £87m annual expenses bill erupted last month when MPs backed new legislation to exclude themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. MPs are currently blocking attempts from the information commissioner to force them to disclose full details of their taxpayer-funded expenses.

Mark Hunter, a Liberal Democrat MP opposed to the new legislation, said: “It is public money and it should be accounted for. I don’t believe MPs ought to be exempt under freedom of information and I thought the vote was a shameful day. This is precisely the sort of thing that gives MPs a bad name.”

An MP can spend up to £21,634 on the cost of maintaining a second home, either in London or in his or her constituency. This money can be used to pay almost all costs associated with running the home including furnishings, groceries, mortgage, utility bills and council tax.

A further £20,000 a year is available for paying the costs involved in running an office. Plasma screens, iPods and fish tanks could come out of either of these allowances. MPs can pick up a staffing allowance of up to £84,081 a year as well.

Last week The Sunday Times revealed that Derek Conway, a senior Conservative MP, paid his wife Colette £3,271 a month and his son Frederick £981. Frederick is a full-time geography student at Newcastle University.

Several other MPs also employ family members, including David Cameron, the Tory leader, who has appointed his wife’s sister, Alice Sheffield, as his correspondence secretary.

Daily Mail 9th. June 2007

MPs take wives on mini-breaks to the sun...and taxpayer foots bill


 MPs are enjoying taxpayer-funded "mini-breaks" to European capitals accompanied by their spouses in an extraordinary Commons expenses scam.

The Mail on Sunday can today reveal how politicians exploit a loophole that allows them to take foreign excursions anywhere in the European Union – and then claim back the costs from Westminster authorities.

Using an obscure rule introduced in the late Nineties, MPs are allowed to make up to three trips each year to mainland Europe to learn about the inner workings of the EU.

Many MPs would take a real interest in visiting the sunny island of Malta on business

But the system is now open to widespread abuse, as politicians use official meetings lasting only a few minutes to justify the cost and reason behind their visit.

Two former MPs have now blown the whistle on the abuse, where MPs are reimbursed for club-class return air fares and "subsistence" costs of up to £200 a day.

One ex-Labour backbencher, who asked not be named, said: "It was normal practice. I went to Cyprus and of course everyone went to Malta to chase the sun."

A second retired member, who quit at the last Election, said: "I am sad to say a sensible provision introduced to help us learn more about European politics was hijacked by 'junketeers'."

MPs themselves cynically dubbed the trips "Euro-jaunts", he added.

The revelation will fuel the growing row over Commons expenses, sparked by the introduction of a new bill to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act.

Should the controversial legislation be approved, the public will no longer have the right to know the details of politicians' pay and allowances.

The latest disclosure centres around a little-known perk allowing MPs up to three visits a year to 'EU institutions' or national parliaments in European capitals.

They were the brainchild of the late Robin Cook, who as Foreign Secretary hoped to encourage MPs to take a greater interest in the EU.

And there were claims this travel benefit has been subject to widespread abuse. As the former Labour backbencher explained: "The aim was to get the business part over with as quickly as possible and then get on with the mini-break.

"First I would decide where I wanted to go. I could choose any EU capital or any capital of a country applying to join the EU or a member of the European Free Trade Association.

"Then I would get in touch with the relevant British Embassy overseas.

"An official would always be happy to sort things out. Sometimes one could get away with a single meeting lasting just ten minutes.

"I would buy a club-class ticket and claim it back on expenses. I would have to pay for my spouse's ticket. But they would usually get an upgrade from economy so we could sit together.

"On my return I would also put in a claim for subsistence, which was normally £150 to £200 a day. There was never any need to produce receipts."

The second former MP recalled: "We went to Malta one February in search of warmth and it was the coldest winter in 50 years. We met the High Commissioner for an hour or so but that was it.

"A particular high spot was four days in Cyprus when the briefing consisted of a ten-minute phone call with a High Commission official and no meetings at all. In Bucharest in Romania a winery tour was arranged."

But one current MP defended the European travel perk. "There is no doubt it can be abused by a minority.

"But most of us use it sparingly to investigate issues we are genuinely interested in," the MP added.

The Commons authorities refused to say how much money is paid out to MPs for European trips. A spokesman said: "The House authorities are not prepared to comment on how many Members are in receipt of this allowance nor whether there have been refusals of claims."

The Sunday Times 27th. May 2007

MP hires son on expenses

A SENIOR Tory MP is paying his son to act as his parliamentary assistant even though he is still a full-time undergraduate at university.

Commons records reveal that Frederick Conway was paid at the rate of £981 a month from the parliamentary staffing allowance handed to his father Derek, a former government whip.

Derek Conway’s wife, Colette, is also on the payroll and is paid £3,271 a month as another of his registered parliamentary assistants, according to the returns for November last year.

Conway, who ran the leadership campaign of David Davis, the shadow home secretary, is the latest MP to stand accused of exploiting the expenses awarded to parliamentarians.

As a registered parliamentary assistant he has a Commons pass and last summer held his 21st birthday party on the House of Commons terrace overlooking the Thames, attended by his parents and friends.

He has also played for the parliamentary rugby team.

Photographs of the events appear on his Facebook website. It is not known how long he has worked for his father or in what capacity, although parliamentary records show he had a Commons pass in 2005.

Derek Conway, 54, is one of the most senior Tory backbenchers. He was first elected to parliament in 1983 and served as a junior minister before becoming a whip under John Major’s premiership. He is regarded as a parliamentary bruiser and has criticised the conduct of Labour cabinet ministers, including John Prescott. He sits on the all-party Commons administration committee that oversees the operation of the parliamentary estate.

Conway, now MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup in southeast London, has previously attracted criticism over his expenses. In 2005-6, he claimed £4,072 for car mileage, which can be claimed for journeys between home, Westminster and the constituency, and for travel up to 20 miles outside of an MP’s seat on local business. Conway’s claim would equate to about 1,000 trips between Westminster and his constituency.

He also claims the full allowance for the costs of running a second home for those who need a constituency and a central London base.

Yesterday, when asked about his son’s employment, he initially denied a professional relationship. However, when confronted with details of the payments he said: “It’s not something that I am going to be drawn into talking about . . . I’m not talking about individuals and you must print what you want to print. I am not going to comment.” Although the question was put to him six times, he declined to respond further.

MPs receive a “staffing allowance” of more than £80,000 annually to pay employees in their parliamentary and constituency offices. These staff are entitled to full-time contracts, pension entitlements and other perks. The rules stipulate that members of staff must be “employed to meet a genuine need in supporting you, the member, in performing your parliamentary duties; [be] able and (if necessary) qualified to do the job; [and] actually doing the job.”

The Sunday Times has established that several other MPs are also employing family members as parliamentary staff. Malcolm Bruce, the LIberal Democrat MP, pays his wife Rosemary £28,500 a year.

Sir Stuart Bell, Labour MP for Middlesbrough, employs his wife Margaret for £35,000 a year and Nick Ainger, Labour MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, pays his wife Sally about £19,000 a year. They all confirmed the arrangements and said they had complied with the rules.

Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, had to resign amid allegations that he was paying his wife for parliamentary duties she did not perform. An inquiry later ruled that she had carried out the work within the rules.

The latest disclosures come amid growing unease at attempts by MPs to exempt themselves from Freedom of Information (FOI) laws. MPs disclose only total expenditure claims – but are under pressure to reveal a breakdown of their staffing, office and other expenses. After a battle, the Commons had to publish a breakdown of travel allowances by car, train and flights. This embarrassed Barry Gardiner, the environment minister, as it showed he had claimed mileage allowances last year equivalent to driving his family car to Delhi and back, even though he is a London MP with an official government car.

The information commissioner believes even more detailed information on every claim met by the taxpayer should be published. A similar disclosure in Scotland led to the resignation of David McLetchie, the Scottish Tory leader, who could not account for £5,000 of “personal” taxi journeys.

A Whitehall review of parliamentary pay and allowances, which will report to the prime minister next month, is expected to call for an end to the “gravy train” of MPs’ expenses.

MPs can claim £250 “petty cash” a month without stipulating what the money is for. A further £400 a month can be claimed for food without producing receipts. In total, MPs can legitimately pick up £7,800 tax-free per annum on trust because they are presumed to be “honour-able” members.

The Senior Salaries Review Board is conducting a review of parliamentary pay and allowances which will report to the prime minister next month. It is also understood to be analysing the system of claiming expenses.

One source said: “They are looking at the system itself and the reputational impact that some of the current practices may have. However, there is a lot of pressure from senior MPs on the board only to look at the level of pay and not make recommendations on the detail.”

Ten days ago MPs caused uproar after voting in favour of a backbench bill which would exclude them from FOI laws, apparently with the tacit support of the government and the opposition front benches. The bill is now due to be heard in the Lords.

Gordon Brown and David Cameron have both pledged to continue publishing information about expenses. This is unlikely to include the detailed breakdown being demanded and the information commissioner would have no powers to force the release of the information.

What members are allowed

Staffing allowance

£84,081 To pay for employees’ pay, pensions and perks

Additional costs allowance

£21,634 To cover mortgage interest for a second property, utility bills, grocery bills, council tax and insurance

Incidental expenses allowance

£20,000 To pay for office and surgery costs. MPs can also pick up £250 every month in petty cash from this allowance

Travel expenses

No maximum


YOUR right to know how MPs & Peers spend YOUR money is being subverted by MPs and the Government!



On Friday 18th. May 2007 Parliament voted to give a Third Reading to Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2007. This Bill, which is a Private Member's Bill promoted by former Tory Chief Whip David Maclean (Penrith & The Border), has been put forward as being necessary to protect the correspondence of constituents with MPs and of MPs with ministers concerning the affairs of their constituents.

In reality the Bill is nothing less than a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 of both the House of Commons and The House of Lords, so placing most aspects of the workings of Parliament beyond scrutiny of the Press and the Public.

As the Headnote puts it the bill seeks to "Amend the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to exempt from its provisions the House of Commons and House of Lords and correspondence between Members of Parliament and public authorities." It will thus be seen that the protection of the correspondence of Members is but a secondary objective of this Bill. It does not take much intelligence to appreciate that the correspondence which this Bill and its supporters seek to protect are already amply protected by the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. If such correspondence is not so protected, then it would be a simple matter to amend that Act to achieve the desired result. Instead a Bill which is of far wider application has been presented and now given its third reading. Why is a blanket exemption from the Freedom of Information Act 2000 needed to achieve the stated objective?

The effect of the Bill, if it finally passes into law, will be to prevent any person from finding out anything about the Houses of Parliament, its operation and its costs . One particular thing which has been singled out, and which critics of the Bill say actually lies behind it, is that the Bill would prevent any information concerning MPs and Peer's expenses from being made public. Recently detailed material about how individual MPs spent YOUR money was published and it was quite obvious that MPs did not like the exercise at all, bringing as it did uncomfortable questions seeking the justification of high-spending MPs for their apparent profligacy.

Promises have been given that this is not the intention of the Bill and that, voluntarily, (how kind), The Speaker will ensure that such details continue to be available.

Frankly this promise is one which the average taxpayer and elector ought to treat as not being worth the paper upon which it is written. If the LAW is that the Houses of Parliament are exempt from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 then any MP or Peer unwilling to allow his or her expenses to be exposed to the light of day and thus scrutiny by those who pay for them could invoke the provisions of this Bill and as a matter of law prevent their disclosure, whatever promises might be given by The Speaker. And who is to say that a subsequent Speaker would honour such a promise? Given the reputation of MPs in the early years of this Millenium, why should we believe a single word they say on such a matter?

By this Bill the political elite of this country seeks to put itself above, even outside the law, arrogantly asserting that there indeed is one law for us, the general public and one law for them, our political masters.

Private Members Bills normally stand but little chance of passing into law. This Bill appeared at one stage to have fallen by the wayside but further time was mysteriously found for it to proceed. Again normally do not receive any Government support, but on this occasion, as the voting list which is published here, substantial and unexpected support from Labour members emerged when the vote on the Third Reading of the Bill took place on 18th. May 2007. Surprisingly some 25 Tories also supported this Bill. They in particular should be ashamed of themselves.

Commentators suggest that the Government is tacitly in support of this Bill. This is unsurprising since the Government has recently been showing signs of wanting, by underhand means such as charging exorbitant fees, to emasculate the workings of the Freedom of Information Act, having discovered that far too much embarrassing and discreditable information is getting into the public domain because of the effective use journalists are making of it. There are also signs that the Tory front bench is not unopposed to this Bill: certainly they have made no effort to urge Conservative MPs to stop this Bill in its tracks. Whatever David Cameron may now be saying about this Bill and the need to stop it from getting on the Statute Book, he and his Front Bench team were conspicuous by their absence last Friday. It is only the weekend's highly critical comment that has stirred him into life. Better late than never!

Gordon Brown seems not to be against it for one of his principal Lieutenants and political friends, Ed Balls, voted in favour of the Bill. Balls is Treasury Economic Secretary under Brown.

Far more significantly, however, out of 13 Government Whips, 11 voted during various divisions on the Bill, of whom all were in favour of the Bill. These were Jacqui Smith (Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury and Chief Whip) Alan Campbell, Claire Ward, David Watts, Frank Roy (Lords Commissioner), Liz Blackman, Ian Cawsey, Michael Foster, Huw Iranca-Davies, Stephen McCabe and Jonathon Shaw (Assistant Whips).

At Third Reading, of the 76 Labour supporters of the Bill, no fewer than 36 were members of the government (including Parliamentary Private Secretaries). Labour made up 76 of the Bill’s 95 supporters, the Tories providing the rest.  Nine of those voting in favour of the Bill were at this stage Government Whips (out of a total of thirteen in the Government Whips Office). 

What conclusion might one draw from these facts? Firstly it is the presence in the ‘Aye’ lobby of nearly all the Government Whips which catches the eye. Why should so many of them have a sudden concern for the sanctity of member’s correspondence? Is it a coincidence that the promoter of the Bill just happens once to have been the Conservative Chief Whip? These facts give a very strong whiff that this Bill is in fact a creature of the government, if not by original inspiration, then by de facto adoption. The enthusiasm of the Government’s Whips for this exercise is, surely, the clue to this Bill’s true godparents. The only reasonable inference to be drawn from these facts is that this is a de facto  Government Bill in all but name.

Given that the Government, faced with more and more skilful investigation by journalists and others, has become distinctly chilly towards the Freedom of Information Act 2001, here was a perfect vehicle for the Government to start the process of rolling back the freedom of information tide, promoted by a backbench member of the Opposition (who just by chance happens to have been the Tories’ Chief Whip). Here too was a perfect way to curry favour with their own backbenchers whose allowances and expenses would otherwise be exposed to the cruel exposure of journalistic daylight, an apparently risk-free vehicle to subvert the nation’s right to know without leaving too much tell-tale DNA behind.

This is a shabby little Bill being promoted for disgraceful and dishonourable motives. If the new Prime Minister and David Cameron wish to be seen as being serious about the concept of ‘open government’, then it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate their commitment by making an immediate and strong call for all their supporters to oppose this Bill. If they fail to make such a call, then we shall all know that they support this tawdry little Bill and that, in truth, they are, whenever they talk of ‘open’ government, being utterly hypocritical.

Politicians in this country have managed in recent years to bring their reputation down to something on a par with second-hand car salesmen and spivs. This Bill must surely have damaged their reputation further. The time has come to bring them up sharp.

In order to shame these shameless people into killing this disgraceful proposal to put MPs and Peers above the law, a Draft Bill has been prepared and an ePetition advocating its adoption has been placed on on the 10 Downing Street ePetition site at:

Since last week there has been substantial press and other condemnation of the Bill and suggestions that Gordon Brown may now try to kill the Bill. Sadly many people do not trust such promises, therefore the public must act to send Parliament a message that it wants complete openness concerning their expenses.

In Scotland an Online Register of MSP's expenses already exists and operates without fuss.

Please visit the ePetition and signify your support for it.


Key Adrian Bailey = Member of Government



Graham Allen, Janet Anderson, Adrian Bailey, Sir Stuart Bell, Clive Betts, Liz Blackman, Nicholas Brown, Colin Burgon, David Cairns, Alan Campbell, Ronnie Campbell, David Clelland, Harry Cohen, Wayne David, Parmjit Dhanda, Brian H. Donohoe, Frank Doran, Jim Dowd, Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, Clive Efford, Jim Fitzpatrick, Caroline Flint, Michael Foster (Worcester), Mike Hall, Tom Harris, Doug Henderson,John Heppell, Keith Hill, Huw Irranca-Davies, Kevan Jones, Martyn Jones, Fraser Kemp, David Lammy, Bob Laxton, Tom Levitt, Ivan Lewis, Tony Lloyd, Khalid Mahmood, David Marshall, Thomas McAvoy, Steve McCabe, Ian McCartney, John McFall, Shona McIsaac, Tony McNulty, Gillian Merron, Alun Michael, Laura Moffat, Elliot Morley, George Mudie, Meg Munn, Denis Murphy,  James Plaskitt, Stephen Pound, Ken Purchase, John Robertson, Frank Roy, Joan Ryan, Martin Salter, Jonathon Shaw, Jim Sheridan, Siôn Simon, Angela C. Smith (Sheffield, Hillsborough), Anne Snelgrove, John Spellar, Ian Stewart, Mark Tami, Dari Taylor, Gareth Thomas, Dr. Desmond Turner, Claire Ward, Tom Watson, Dave Watts, Malcolm Wicks, Phil Woolas, David Wright,


Bob Ainsworth, Peter Atkinson, Simon Burns, Sir John Butterfill, James Duddridge, Tobias Ellwood,  Julie Kirkbride, Greg Knight, Dr Julian Lewis David Maclean, Robert Neill, Andrew Pelling Mark Pritchard, John Randall, David Ruffley, David Tredinnick,  Anne Widdecombe Ann Winterton, Sir Nicholas Winterton,

Tellers for the Ayes: Mr. Tim Boswell and Mr. Andrew Dismore



Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Cousins, Frank Field, Mark Fisher, Neil Gerrard, Kate Hoey, Dan Norris, Sir Peter Soulsby, David Winnick


James Clappison, John Redwood, Richard Shepherd, Philip Hollobone, John Maples

Liberal Democrat

Norman Baker, Lorely Burt, Tim Farron, Sandra Gidley, Julia Goldsworthy, Evan Harris, David Howarth, Simon Hughes, Susan Kramer,  

Plaid Cymru

Hywel Williams


George Galloway

Tellers for the Noes: Alan Reid and Jo Swinson




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