19 May 2009 : Column 17MC

Ministerial Correction

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Leader of the House

Business of the House

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): Will my right hon. and learned Friend, who expressed her views and gave voice to the House on the issue of the need to clean up the expenses system, urge the House authorities to provide Members on request with an electronic copy of our receipts and claims, with full access rights—not just a read-only copy—so that we can make the redactions that are indicated but not made on the electronic copy that we have? We can then put them on our websites or do what we want with them. Please will she ensure that that happens so that we have proper access to our own data and can manage it as we choose?

[Official Report, 14 May 2009, Vol. 492, c. 1024-1025.]

Letter of correction from Harriet Harman:

An error has been identified in the oral answer given to the hon. Member for Northampton, North (Ms Keeble) during Business Questions on 14 May 2009. The answer given was as follows:

Ms Harman: Many hon. Members have been asked by their local newspapers, which are read by the constituents who elected them, to put details of their own claims and the payments received in the public domain so that the local newspaper can report them. Many hon. Members want to do that because, having been elected by their constituents, they feel that their constituents are entitled to know where their Member of Parliament stands amidst all of this. The difficulty is that the information on the claims and payments made that we have been given by the House authorities in electronic form cannot be given to local newspapers because it includes all sorts of information that to give out would breach the freedom of information laws. For example, if I gave out the information about my expenses to the South London Press, which I want to do without having to wait for the House authorities to do so, I would be putting in the public domain the bank statements of my assistant, who is not at all keen that I should do that. I understand why, and it would be breaking the law.

This morning I asked the Clerk of the House if we could have not only a read-only copy but one that we
19 May 2009 : Column 18MC
could pass on to our local paper with the genuinely personal bits crossed out, and he is discussing that with the House authorities. That is not the situation at the moment and hon. Members will just have to tell their local newspapers that they can either come in and read the hard copies, with the personal parts, such as bank account details, crossed out, or simply wait for the House of Commons to enable us to provide an electronic copy. All local newspapers should recognise that although many hon. Members would not feel obliged to respond to national newspapers, they do feel accountable to their local constituents. The local newspapers report to the local constituents and Members want to be accountable to them.

The correct answer should have been:

Ms Harman: Many hon. Members have been asked by their local newspapers, which are read by the constituents who elected them, to put details of their own claims and the payments received in the public domain so that the local newspaper can report them. Many hon. Members want to do that because, having been elected by their constituents, they feel that their constituents are entitled to know where their Member of Parliament stands amidst all of this. The difficulty is that the information on the claims and payments made that we have been given by the House authorities in electronic form cannot be given to local newspapers because it includes all sorts of information that to give out would breach data protection laws. For example, if I gave out the information about my expenses to the South London Press, which I want to do without having to wait for the House authorities to do so, I would be putting in the public domain the bank statements of my assistant, who is not at all keen that I should do that. I understand why, and it would be breaking the law.

This morning I asked the Clerk of the House if we could have not only a read-only copy but one that we could pass on to our local paper with the genuinely personal bits crossed out, and he is discussing that with the House authorities. That is not the situation at the moment and hon. Members will just have to tell their local newspapers that they can either come in and read the hard copies, with the personal parts, such as bank account details, crossed out, or simply wait for the House of Commons to enable us to provide an electronic copy. All local newspapers should recognise that although many hon. Members would not feel obliged to respond to national newspapers, they do feel accountable to their local constituents. The local newspapers report to the local constituents and Members want to be accountable to them.


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