THE vexed question of MPs’ expenses is returning to the agenda again in Parliament this week in the Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order.
It seems that an unholy conspiracy of Conservative and Labour backbenchers have ‘persuaded’ Harriet Harman, the Deputy Prime Minister, to back peddle on the need for full publication of receipts for MPs expenses.
This week Ministers are expected to exempt all Members and Peers from publishing receipts for their expenses over the past three years, only weeks before they were due to be published.
Now it looks as though the hard fought battle for disclosure by Liberal Democrat and other individual MPs, along with journalists and members of the public, will be lost.
I have spoken out loud and clear about full public accountability and transparency when it comes to Members expenses. We are paid from the public purse and people should be entitled to know what MPs spend their money on.
Every time Parliament draws back from disclosure, people will naturally think the worst and wonder what MPs have got to hide. Justified or not, this further breaks down trust between politicians and the public, already at a very low ebb.
I made a commitment last summer to publish my own expenses on my website, and I shall continue to do so along with all my Liberal Democrat front bench colleagues and others who undertake to do this voluntarily.
I have also signed a motion in Parliament by Liberal Democrat MP, Jo Swinson calling on Ministers to block the Order to remove the expenses of Members and Peers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.
Members and Peers would otherwise be in a special category as the only public officials who did not have to disclose full details of their expenses; a move that I know from my mailbag readers will not be happy to accept.
I will be joining my Liberal Democrat colleagues this Thursday to oppose this shabby fudge on the principle of transparency of information.