Speaker defends decision to call in police over expenses leak

May 11, 2009 at 4:25 pm 1 comment

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Michael Martin, the Speaker of the Commons, has made a statement to the House on the leak of details about MPs’ expenses.

In exchanges with Members he criticised a Labour backbench MP.

Last week it was revealed that Parliamentary authorities had asked the Metropolitan police to investigate how the information was leaked to The Daily Telegraph.

Mr Martin said that MPs must consider the “the spirit of what is right” when claiming their expenses.

He said that the House of Commons Commission will meet today to decide if all MPs’ expenses details should be released as soon as possible.

Partially censored details were due for publication in July after a lengthy campaign by freedom of information advocates.

Yesterday Sir Stuart Bell, a member of the Commission, said that a new independent body will be created to oversee the expenses claims of MPs. At present the Fees Office is responsible for policing expenses.

Today Mr Martin told MPs that the House of Commons was advised against seeking an injunction against publication but it was right to ask police to investigate.

The Speaker clashed with several MPs, and attacked Kate Hoey for claiming the police investigation is a waste of resources.

Ms Hoey said: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order to point out that many of us—I hope from all parts of the House—feel that bringing in the Metropolitan police, who have a huge job to do in London at the moment in dealing with all sorts of problems, to try to find out who has leaked something, when, as has been pointed out, the newspapers have handled the personal details very responsibly by blanking them out, is an awful waste of resources? Will the public not see this, whatever the intention, as a way of hiding—

The Speaker interrupted her.

“Let me answer the hon. Lady,” he said.

“I listen to her often when I turn on the television at midnight, and I hear her public utterances and pearls of wisdom on Sky News—it is easy to talk then.

“Let me put this to the hon. Lady and to every hon. Member in this House: is it the case than an employee of this House should be able to hand over any private data to any organisation of his or her choosing?

“The allegations—I emphasise that they are allegations—are that that information was handed over to a third party in order to find the highest bidder for private information.

“If I do not ask, or rather if the Clerk of the House does not ask, for the police to be brought in, we are saying that that employee should be left in situ with all the personal information of every hon. Member, including the hon. Lady’s own information and that of her employees.

“Let me say that anyone who has looked at their own un-redacted information can see that the signatures of employees are exposed, that private ex-directory numbers are exposed and that passwords—telephone passwords—are exposed.

“I just say to the hon. Lady that it is easy to say to the press, “This should not happen,” but it is a wee bit more difficult when you have to do more than just give quotes to the Express—or the press, rather—and do nothing else; some of us in this House have other responsibilities, other than just talking to the press.”

Mr Martin also accused Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, who has been a campaigner for expenses reform, of being “another member who is keen to say to the press what the press wants to hear.”

Earlier today the Prime Minister, speaking at the Royal College of Nursing conference, apologised for the “mistakes” that had been made over expenses.

“Just as you have the highest standards in your profession, we must show that we have the highest standards for our profession,” he said.

“And we must show that, where mistakes have been made and errors have been discovered, where wrongs have to be righted, that that is done so immediately.

“We have also to try hard to show people and think hard about how a profession that, like yours, depends on trust – the most precious asset it has is trust – how that profession too can show that it is genuinely there to serve the public in all its future needs.”

“I want to apologise on behalf of politicians on behalf of all parties for what has happened in the events of the last few days.”

Over the past few days The Daily Telegraph has published details of expenses claims from dozens of MPs, including the Speaker, the Prime Minister and other Cabinet members.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. UK Voter  |  May 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    I though there was supposed to be some form of protection for whistleblowers. Clearly that is not the case if they do something which may embarass the ‘honourable’ members. One rule for them and another for the rest of us. Personally, I would award the guy (or gal) with an OBE.

    Reply

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