Further evidence, if any was needed, that Parliament must, in order to restore trust in the system for payment of MP’s and Peer’s expenses, be forced to provide much greater detail of those expenses comes this week with the final climb-down of Parliament in the case of Anne Moffat, Labour MP for East Lothian.

In 2003/04 Moffat claimed an absolutely whopping £39,744 in travel expenses. A Green party activist called Michael Collie, who stood against her in 2005, sought to use the Freedom of Information Act 2000 to obtain further detail of how this figure was made up. Parliament then proceeded to fight tooth and claw to prevent any such disclosure from taking place. It refused to give such detail.

The Information Commissioner then overturned that refusal, a decision which was upheld by the Information Tribunal. Parliament then showed just how determined it was that the Taxpayer should be prevented from having any further information about her expenses by taking proceedings in the High Court to overturn the decision of the Information Commissioner. Many will think that Parliament has much to hide by taking this course and that it is afraid of the sort of scrutiny that will be focused on how Public money is spent by MPs and Peers: afraid that is of having to expose just how deep in the trough some MPs have their snouts.

In the event Parliament has now shied away from having an unfavourable decision, doubtless fearing that, backed by such a precedent, no future request could be turned down. In short, on this matter at any rate, they have backed down and Mr. Collie has been sent the information.

East Lothian is located just to the East of Edinburgh.

The figures for 2003/04 show that Moffat claimed £9792 in rail fares over the 12-month period, including £7211 for journeys from London to “Glasgow or Edinburgh”.

These 26 journeys cost an average of £277 each, a sum that suggests the Labour MP was travelling first class. A standard return between both cities, in 2007 prices, costs £91. She also claimed £1817 in rail fares for 42 trips between Heathrow and Central London, with each ticket averaging £43.

At today’s prices, a standard “open return” between the airport and King’s Cross station costs £13.60.

Moffat also claimed £15,712 in air fares between London and Edinburgh or Glasgow. The 51 tickets averaged £308. Nice work, if you can get it!

Despite claiming around £22,000 in rail and air travel between London and Scotland, she also managed to claim £12,289 in mileage for a total of 24,129 miles: that is 66 miles per day! One wonders how she managed to have time to attend Parliament at all.

In addition, she claimed £910 in travel for visiting Lisbon on parliamentary business, and £942 for a trip to Valletta in Malta.

To be fair to this MP, it is right to say that she has since cut considerably her expenses claim for travel: in 2006/07 she had cut it down to £12,331, a cut of some 70%. This rather begs the question as to what it was she was doing in 2003/04 which she no longer deems necessary to do, given that she now seems able to manage with a significantly smaller expense allowance. It also points up the value of proper and open public scrutiny of MPs expenses. Her expenses claim has dropped in each year since 2003/04.

Who doubts but that that could be replicated across Parliament?

This is but one example of an MP claiming huge sums of money on expenses for which the Taxpayer pays. The sums involved, particularly those for MPs housing allowances which are widely seen as a means for MPs to enrich themselves, are enormous and the fact of them and the fact that Parliament itself fights so hard to prevent us from themselves from being accountable to the public means that this is an issue deeply corrosive of public trust.

Perhaps it was this sort of case that Parliament had in mind when it tried to pass David Maclean’s Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill 2007 that was so strongly supported by Labour (in particular by the labour Whips) at Third Reading in the Commons in May 2007. This shabby attempt to conceal any details of expenses from public scrutiny has, for the moment, been halted in its tracks. Michael Collie may now notch this one up on the edge of his keyboard.

In the end this sort of thing is only going to be properly resolved if Parliament bites the bullet and introduces a scheme whereby details of all MP’s and Peer’s expenses are available online as they are for the Scottish Parliament.

Her record of expenses may be found here.

A report on her 2003/04 expenses is here.

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