An information request by Channel 4 in relation to property expenses has caused another stir within the Houses of Parliament. The identities of landlords and agents of the 320 MPs who put forward rental expense claims in October have been released under the Freedom of Information Act. This information was provided by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority who did so despite concerns from the Commons Speaker – John Bercow – that in doing so the security of those mentioned would be put at risk; though some information was held back on 51 of the MPs as it was felt this could lead to their address being revealed. However, the labour MP John Mann believes that the public are entitled to know who MPs are paying taxpayer funded expenses money to; he went as far as to say if this information could not be disclosed MPs should not be claiming such expenses.
The information provided some interesting reading. It showed that a number of MPs rented property from other MPs or peers and that going by the details, some of the landlords might in fact be famous names – for instance a Frank Lampard was mentioned; though the latter could not be confirmed. Some of the MPs who live within easy commuting distance of London are claiming for a second home on parliamentary allowances. A notable example is Helen Grant – the equalities minister – whose home is just 19 miles away in Reigate in Surrey, but also claims for a flat in Vauxhall, putting in the maximum allowable expenses of £1666.67 per month for this property. However, because her constituency is outside of London she is within her rights to claim for a second home allowance. It has also been suggested that one of the MPs keen to conceal their landlord’s name – Luciana Berger, a Labour MP – did so because she wanted to keep it secret that her property was rented from an agent in the British Virgin Islands, which is a well known tax haven. However, a spokesman for her said this was untrue and had been unaware herself where the company was based; it related instead to problems with a stalker she had in 2010, so she was keen to keep her details private.
Despite tightening of the expenses rules, the UK taxpayer still provides around £89million each year towards claims made by MPs. Around £1million of this is as a result of MPs claiming rent for a second home; these are meant to facilitate their duties, but the public might be left questioning this.
By Amy Millband