Another British minister quits

LONDON: Details of British MPs’ expenses were officially published online for the first time on Thursday, after the scandal which has already forced a slew of resignations claimed a fresh victim.

The roughly 1.2 million pages of documents on parliament’s website seem unlikely to throw up many fresh surprises, partly because the Daily Telegraph newspaper has already published swathes of leaked information showing how MPs claimed

lavishly for everything from a duck island to moat cleaning.

But there was fresh controversy as it emerged that large sections of the information put online today have been blacked out, including lawmakers’ addresses, prompting claims of “censorship”.

Alistair Graham, former chairman of the independent Committee On Standards In Public Life, which advises the government on ethical standards, said too much information had been held back.

“I am against the sort of redaction and censorship which has clearly taken place,” he told the BBC.

And Maurice Frankel of the Campaign for Freedom of Information said the incomplete published details were a “very poor substitute” for full disclosure.

Publication of the expense claims, which cover 2004/05 and 2007/08, came over a year after the High Court ordered their disclosure following a lengthy legal battle by journalists and campaigners.

Junior treasury minister Kitty Ussher became the latest casualty in the expenses row last night when she quit after it was reported she had avoided paying tax worth up to 17,000 pounds on the sale of her house by “flipping”.

This is the practice of redesignating which home lawmakers — many of whom have houses both in London and their constituencies — classify as their second residence and affects how much allowances and expenses they can claim. The fact that MPs’ addresses are blacked out in today’s online publication means it is impossible to discover who is guilty of flipping without further information.

Heather Brooke, a campaigner whose legal battle led to publication of the information, told the BBC: “People will get a lot out of it, particularly when they look at their own individual MPs, but I think they’ll also become frustrated because they will want to see the different detail.”