Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Speaker Refuses to Name MPs Stripped of Their Travel Cards

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Speaker Refuses to Name MPs Stripped of Their Travel Cards

Article excerpt

COMMONS Speaker Michael Martin was today engulfed in a secrecy row after intervening to stop the naming of three MPs who have had theirtravel cards withdrawn.

The Speaker acted to prevent their names being released to the Evening Standard.

His action will inevitably raise fresh questions over moves by MPs to exempt themselves from freedom of information laws.

The Commons authorities initially refused an FOI request from the Standard for the names of the politicians, arguing that releasing them would have been a breach of "data protection principles" and therefore they did not have to be disclosed under the legislation.

However, they backed down when the Standard challenged this decision, and admitted they were wrong to refuse to reveal the information on personal data protection grounds.

However the Speaker then ruled that the names should be withheld because identifying them "would be likely to prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs".

MPs are generally very reluctant to criticise the Speaker.

However, his decision was questioned by several MPs today.

Henry Bellingham, the Conservative spokesman on freedom of information, stressed that full details of MPs' travel expenses are now being published, after the Commons lost a battle to keep them secret.

He added: "Therefore if there are issues within that whole pool of information, like for example an individual MP and his travel card, I think that's a matter of legitimate public interest. If there are MPs who have got a problem over how they have been using their card, I think that is something they have got to explain.

"If this is just a bureaucratic hiccup, then why not explain it and then at least the public's mind can be put at rest." Kate Hoey, Labour MP for Vauxhall, said: "MPs should not be exempt from any aspect of freedom of information relating to public money. …

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