Delegation expenses (2017)

Request

Please could I be supplied with copies of all receipts, invoices and other evidence supporting expenses for each individual in the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
Could this information be provided for the third quarter of 2016 (Oct-Dec).

 

Response

The House of Commons holds the information for Commons members of the delegation and copies of receipts and invoices in scope of your request are attached. Please note that our response below only deals with information relating to Members of the House of Commons. The House of Lords is a separate public authority for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act, and they may hold information about Members of the House of Lords in relation to your request, so you may wish to consider forwarding your request for information to them at: FOILORDS@parliament.uk.

Please note, there are five entries on the list of Delegates for whom we do not hold complete records. For four visits, attendance was cancelled (Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh to Paris on 13 December, Suella Fernandes to Paris on 13 December, Khalid Mahmood to Strasbourg on 10-14 October, and Mike Wood to Strasbourg on 10-14 October), and although there was spend due to cancellation of non-refundable items , there was not actual “expenses” claimed. Additionally, there was one visit by Huw Merriman to Strasbourg on 10-14 October, where the House of Commons paid for his hotel and travel, but the Member did not claim expenses for the visit.

Where invoices and receipts include information on items which are not reimbursable and have not been claimed for, e.g. where a hotel bill reflects personal payments, the House considers this to be personal data and the information has been redacted. Further details are provided below. 

Additionally, please note that some information has been redacted under the following sections of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOIA):
 
Section 40 (Personal data)
Some personal information, such as names of operational staff and personal payments which have not been reimbursed, have been redacted from these receipts. This information is exempt by virtue of section 40 (2) of the FOIA (the exemption for personal information), as disclosure of this information to the public generally, in the House’s view, would not be consistent with the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA). This is an absolute exemption and the public interest test does not apply.

Section 31 (Law enforcement)
Some information, such as account numbers and payment card information, have been redacted.  We have also redacted the details of hotels regularly used by the Members of Parliament making up these delegations.  This has been withheld in accordance with section 31 (1) (a) of the FOIA, as to disclose this information would be likely to prejudice the prevention and detection of crime. This is not an absolute exemption and requires a public test to be performed.
We have considered our obligation to assist the public in understanding how we conduct our business and the legitimate interest in the use of resources funded by the taxpayer. However, the disclosure of this information may assist people of malicious or criminal intent to use those accounts illegally or access the banking details of individuals.  The disclosure of regularly used hotels would enable the whereabouts of Members to be predicted at future visits, exposing them to an unacceptable risk of criminal harm.  Disclosure of such information would fail in our duty to assist those services providing us with law enforcement services as it would hinder their work in preventing and detecting crime and apprehending offenders.

Section 24(1) – National security
Information relating to the details of hotels regularly used by Members on delegations is also withheld under section 24 (1) of the FOIA, which provides an exemption from disclosure where provision of the information would make the UK or its citizens more vulnerable to a national security threat. This is a qualified or non-absolute exemption and the public interest test applies.
There is a public interest in understanding that Members representing the UK abroad are securely accommodated in hotels and that the measures in place to safeguard national security are effective.  The countervailing risk is national security being compromised if the names and locations of these hotels was disclosed, allowing Members to be specifically targeted.  Groups planning attacks are known to conduct extensive research into how best to gain access to their targets.  Releasing details of regularly used locations of Members into the public domain would allow them to be directly targeted by criminals, terrorists or fixated individuals.  In these circumstances it is our view that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Section 38 (Health and safety)
Some of the information you require is being withheld on the basis that its disclosure to the public generally would be likely to endanger the physical health and safety of individuals while attending events. We have therefore concluded that some details of hotels used regularly by delegates is exempt from disclosure as provided by section 38(1) (a) and (b) of the FOIA. This is not an absolute exemption and requires a public test to be performed.
We have considered the public interest in understanding how taxpayer money is spent on expenses by the UK delegates to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe when attending events. However, there is a countervailing public interest that the health and safety of those individuals, and those of other guests and staff, may be harmed by the release of details of some hotels regularly used by delegates. The disclosure of the information you seek would actively prejudice the security, health and safety of delegates and others by identifying locations and making them more vulnerable to attack, thereby increasing the risk of harm. It is our view that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.