Friday, 23 May 2008

MPs Expenses: Freedom of Information Campaign Bears Fruit

After a long court battle, expense details of 14 MPs including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron will be released today.

The Freedom of Information requests were made by campaigner Heather Brooke (of Your Right To Know) along with journalists from the Sunday Times and Sunday Telegraph.

It has been estimated that the lost three-year fight by to keep the expenses and second home details secret has cost the taxpayer between £100,000 and £200,000 - money spent, as the text of the judgement makes clear, fighting against the public interest:

"15. We have no doubt that the public interest is at stake. We are not here dealing with idle gossip, or public curiosity about what in truth are trivialities. The expenditure of public money through the payment of MPs' salaries and allowances is a matter of direct and reasonable interest to taxpayers. They are obliged to pay their taxes at whatever level and on whatever basis the legislature may decide, in part at least to fund the legislative process..." -
Lord Justice Latham & Mr Justice Blake

Heather Brooke's victory here is a genuinely great achievement, and hopefully one that will set a precedent leading to greater openness, and consequentially reduced corruption and frivolous use of taxpayers' money. She is now calling for a fully transparent system of publicisation of expenses, whereby all claims will be published online for any citizen to see:
"ALL MPs must provide receipts for ALL expenses and make those receipts public. If they are such cheapskates as to claim £1.20 from the public purse then they should be prepared to justify that to the taxpayer." - Heather Brooke

Freedom of Information Resources:
  • Heather Brooke's book 'Your Right to Know' is a 'citizen's guide' to making a Freedom of Information request in the UK, including template letters.

  • The UK Freedom of Information Blog provides updates on UK FOI-related developments.

  • Spy Blog FOIA Tracker provides details of the success or otherwise of selected Freedom of Information requests. Spy Blog also offer to submit FOIA requests on your behalf if you wish to stay anonymous.

  • similarly provides a "journalist resource" containing links to information revealed through FOIA requests.

  • WhatDoTheyKnow is a new MySociety initiative, aimed at making it easier to make Freedom of Information requests.

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