UK & World News
MP Expenses: Attempt To Block New Rent Details
The House of Commons Speaker is trying to block the publication of details of MPs' expenses which could show if they are renting their taxpayer-funded homes to each other.
John Bercow has written to the regulator urging it not to release documents revealing the identities of MPs' landlords for security reasons.
Disclosure would expose the extent to which MPs are taking advantage of a "loophole" which allows them to rent properties to each other.
The concession means it is still possible for MPs to build up property nest eggs at the taxpayer's expense, despite moves to stamp out the practice following the expenses scandal.
Mr Bercow told the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) that its plan to reveal the identities of MPs' landlords had given rise to "grave concerns" about security.
In his letter to Ipsa boss Sir Ian Kennedy, he noted that the watchdog had written to some MPs warning that details were due to be released this Thursday after a Freedom of Information request.
"I understand that the name of their Landlord/Agent will be released along with other personal information," he told Sir Ian.
The Speaker said this had sparked fears that MPs' addresses could be published, creating a "security risk".
"The processing of the data... could involve causing unwarranted damage and distress. I should be grateful if you and your colleagues would reconsider such a plan," he urged.
Security Minister James Brokenshire told Sky News: "I think there is a genuine balance to be struck between the security and privacy of individual members of Parliament and ensuring that there is transparency and there is confidence in the system and it isn't being abused.
"We are very much alive to the issues that were exposed only a few years ago. Clearly if there is evidence of wrongdoing by anyone that should be investigated but I am not sure that is what is being spoken about here."
But Labour MP John Mann said the attempt to prevent the publication of the details appeared to be a "return to the bad old days".
"If MPs are renting from past or current MPs it is right and proper the public is able to know that," he told the paper.
"There is nothing wrong with that, and there is nothing wrong in it being out there in the open. I have no problem in MPs renting it (a flat) out but the public is entitled to know that."
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers' Alliance, added: "If MPs are again found to have exploited the expenses system, it will be another stain on the reputation of Parliament.
"It was the cry that 'it's all within the rules' combined with attempts to suppress the publication of claims that made the MPs' expenses crisis three years ago so toxic.
"Whilst the rules may not technically prevent MPs from renting properties to one another, it is certainly against the spirit of those rules.
"The public's faith was left in tatters in 2009 and the latest allegations could endanger much of the work that has been done since then to restore public confidence in our politicians.
"It is vital that there is total transparency in all matters relating to MPs' taxpayer-funded expenses and allowances."
A House of Commons spokesman said: "The Speaker's letter to Sir Ian Kennedy, chair of IPSA, relates solely to the security implications of publishing MP rental details based on professional advice and resolutions of the House.
"Neither the Speaker nor the House of Commons has knowledge of MP rental arrangements. The rules governing MPs' accommodation are a matter for IPSA and have been since 2010."
A spokesman for Ipsa told The Telegraph: "We are committed to transparency as is shown by our regular publication of all claims by all MPs. We have a duty to balance that against the risk of compromising security.
"We are currently going through the process of gathering all the relevant information to get that judgment right."