I’m astonished by the news that the Speaker has decided, apparently based on new legal advice, to appeal against the decision of the Information Tribunal that certain details of the expenses of fourteen named MPs must be disclosed. An appeal has to be on a point of law; all I can think is that the Speaker will argue the Tribunal erred in its approach to balancing the public interest in disclosure against the MPs’ private interest in confidentiality, so that the Commissioner’s original decision, which was more favourable to MPs, should be restored.

What’s insulting is the suggestion coming from the Parliamentary authorities that this appeal is made because of concerns about security and the confidentiality of MPs’ addresses. If this was so vital, why didn’t Parliament provide the Tribunal with any substantial evidence about the security risk (see paras. 83-85 of the Tribunal’s ruling)? The truth is that the Tribunal considered the evidence that was put before it, and did decide to exempt details of security measures taken at MPs’ homes, and even the address of a second home where there are specific reasons for thinking security would be at risk.

I think the real motivation is a general desire to keep these details secret, and that the Speaker has shopped round London’s public law silks until he got advice that there was just enough chance of success to justify spending public money on an appeal. But in my view the appeal is hopeless: the Tribunal’s ruling already takes account of the security concerns Parliament put to it, and the idea that elected public servants have a legitimate interest in keeping secret the amounts of public money they spend on private residences, a private interest that outweighs the public interest even in retrospective disclosure – I find it incredible that anyone can think public servants have any such interest in a modern democratic society. It’s a scandal, and an insult to the public, that the Speaker can spend our money arguing it.

In putting the Speaker and apparently Parliament so firmly on the side of the devils, it’s also a political mistake. Speaker Martin’s last?

2008-03-26T11:53:00+00:00Tags: |