MPs in duck house over unpaid bills

MPs are trying to block the publication of embarrassing details about unpaid food and drinks bills they have run up in the House of Commons.

Next thing you know, they'll be submitting fraudulent expenses claims to pay these bills. Or not.


The House authorities have delayed releasing the data after MPs reacted furiously to the prospect, following a freedom of information request by the Press Association.

Officials have been forced to seek new legal advice on their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act after the request for a detailed breakdown of the bills.

After months of delays, the information watchdog has now written to the Commons demanding either the release of the details or an explanation for why it is refusing to do so.

Hundreds of MPs are liable for large tabs in Parliament's restaurants, many running to thousands of pounds. Total debts to the publicly-funded Commons catering department stood at £138,046 last summer.

Commons sources claim that officials had initially intended to release the information last autumn.

But MPs on the Commons Administration Committee - which oversees the House catering facilities - asked for its release to be postponed pending further legal advice.

It is understood that MPs have demanded that data protection considerations are studied afresh in relation to the case.

The Data Protection Act was cited by the Commons in its three-year battle - ultimately unsuccessful - to prevent the release of a detailed breakdown of MPs' second home allowance claims.

MPs bid to block bill documents (Press Association, 14 February 2010)