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MPs debt (2015)

Request

  1. The total amount of money owed to the House by Members of Parliament for any reason. (For example: bar tabs, catering costs, events, administrative costs, library fines, costs associated with postage, repairs)
  2. The thirty members who owe the most money. If this is deemed to be excessive information, redact the names and instead indicate their party.
  3. A breakdown of the outstanding items by broad category, and detailed entries for any charges in excess of £100.
  4. Details of any penalties for late payment or non-payment.

Please provide the most current information available, and specify the date on which it is valid.

 

Response

  1. The total amount of money owed to the House by Members of Parliament for any reason. (For example: bar tabs, catering costs, events, administrative costs, library fines, costs associated with postage, repairs)
    This information is held by the House of Commons.
    Only cash transactions are permitted at bars in the House of Commons, so there are no outstanding bar bills.
    Members of Parliament may set up a personal account with the House of Commons to which they may charge certain costs such as drinks and meals in some Commons restaurants. Such an account provides for the House Service to make automatic deductions of any balances owing at the monthly statement date using their preferred payment card. Payment delays can arise where charging card details or personal accounts themselves have lapsed, or questions have been raised on individual transactions.
    The House considers that information concerning the amount owed by each Member is the personal data of that Member and that any processing of that information must therefore be fair, lawful and in accordance with one of the conditions in Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act 1998. In order to meet the conditions of paragraph 6 of Schedule 2 there must be a legitimate public interest in disclosure, the disclosure must be necessary to meet that interest and the disclosure must not cause unwarranted harm to the interests of the individual. In weighing these issues, the House has decided that disclosure of individual indebtedness would be likely to breach the 1998 Act where Members are operating within the letter and spirit of the system of personal accounts. However, it has been concluded that this balance changes at the end of the 90 day period following on from the recording of the debt.
    It has been decided, therefore, that the disclosure of information should be limited to sums owed for more than 90 days. We have concluded that disclosure of information about money owing for less than the 90 day period, while held, would constitute a breach of the data protection principles and is therefore exempt information by virtue of the exemption set out in Section 40(2) and Section 40(3) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.
    Owing to the considerable public interest in debts to these accounts and to reduce the cost burden to the tax-payer to answer these requests, information on Member’s debts over 90 days is now proactively published by the House of Commons on a quarterly basis. Information from April to June 2015 is available on our Transparency pages.
    Information from July to September 2015 is expected to be published by the end of October 2015. Consequently, the information you have requested is being withheld under section 22 (intended for future publication) of the Act. Section 22 is a qualified exemption, and accordingly we have to consider whether the public interest is in withholding the information or in disclosing it. This is not an absolute exemption and the public interest test has been considered below.
    The general argument in favour of releasing information is that there is a public interest in being able to scrutinise aspects of the House of Commons where that information might be easy to access and will not prejudice the House. Against disclosure the argument is the public interest in permitting public authorities to publish information in a manner and form and at a time of their own choosing. It is a part of the effective conduct of public affairs that the general publication of information is a conveniently planned and managed activity within the reasonable control of public authorities. Where the decision has been made in principle to publish, there is a reasonable entitlement to make arrangements to do so.
    Members may sponsor functions and events in the House of Commons. Some details are already proactively published annually and are available on the parliamentary website. The amount of event debts still unpaid after 90 days is £5040.37.
    The House of Commons Library does not fine Members in connection with books returned past their due date. However, the Library does issue charges to Members to help cover the replacement costs of books which have been lost. There is a standard charge of £20 for books owned by the House of Commons Library which have been lost. The charge issued for books obtained on interlibrary loan which have been lost, is set by the library from which the book has been borrowed. There are no outstanding unpaid Library charges to Members of Parliament at the date of your request.
    Members may also purchase footage of parliamentary proceedings from the Parliamentary Recording Unit. The amount of invoices still unpaid after 90 days is £12.00.
    There are no outstanding debts on Members’ stationery & postage costs. The costs are charged to a budget provided by the House of Commons and published annually on the parliamentary website.
    No other sums (for repairs or other administrative costs) are owed to the House of Commons by Members.
  2. The thirty Members who owe the most money. If this is deemed to be excessive information, redact the names and instead indicate their party.
    And
  3. A breakdown of the outstanding items by broad category, and detailed entries for any charges in excess of £100.
    Other than the catering debt already published as indicated in our response to question 1, only four Members have a debt which has been outstanding for 90 days or more. The detailed breakdown for these debts.
  4. Details of any penalties for late payment or non-payment.
    This information is not held by the House of Commons. No late- or non-payment charges are levied to Members.


It may help you to know that the House of Commons Fees and Charges Policy document and Schedule are available on our Transparency pages.