Information Commissioner changes his tune

The parliamentary expenses scandal, and the political furore engulfing the Government this weekend, was a direct result of politicians trying to hide their public affairs "behind closed doors", according to the man who first ordered the House of Commons to disclose MPs' spending.

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, in his first interview since the staggering scale of the abuse of public money by MPs first emerged four weeks ago, said the "controversy" demonstrated the true power of the Freedom of Information Act.

Mr Thomas described the three-year struggle to publish MPs' expenses as a complex legal saga involving a battle against "powerful forces". He said: "The combination of the Freedom of Information Act and journalism had brought home the importance of transparency and accountability."

Speaking exclusively to The Independent on Sunday, Mr Thomas said: "The controversy shows the value of bringing into the open how public money is spent and the possibility of things not being done properly if people do things behind closed doors... It has put Freedom of Information on the map and transformed it from being a fragile flower to a permanent fixture."

The Information Commissioner, who stands down at the end of this month after more than six years in the post, also defended his decision to order only restricted publication of MPs' expenses and not the disclosure of individual receipts for specific items.

'Powerful forces' stopped disclosure of MPs' expenses (Independent on Sunday, 7 June 2009)