Leicester Mercury wins battle to learn facts about ex-MPs' cash payouts
The Leicester Mercury has won a victory which will force the House of Commons to reveal whether former MPs took "golden goodbye" payments worth up to £60,000.
The Mercury has been trying to find out whether former Leicester West MP Patricia Hewitt, who holds a string of high-paid private sector jobs, had taken the grant after she stood down at the last election.
On leaving her MP's job at the last election Ms Hewitt was entitled to a £54,000 grant – but she has never revealed if she had taken this up.
Using the Freedom of Information Act, the Commons authorities were asked to provide a list of MPs who had drawn the grant, paid out of public funds.
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However, the authorities refused – claiming release of the list would breach data protection rules – and the Mercury took its case to the Information Commissioner, who rules in such disputes.
After the watchdog's intervention, the Commons authorities have backed down.
All MPs who drew grants – thought to be 250 of the 255 who left the Commons in May – will be told in the next week or so that their names will be released to the public.
A list will be published in early April.
In a letter to the Mercury a Commons official explained the U-turn occurred because data protection rules that applied when the information was first requested in June last year were no longer relevant.
He said: "In the circumstances as they now apply, we do not consider the information to be exempt."
Under rules in place in May 2010 MPs were entitled to a resettlement grant worth tens of thousands of pounds to "help them adjust" to non-parliamentary life.
The grant is worked out depending on the number of years the MP has served and their final salary.
Critics argued there was no need for the grant particularly where MPs earned significant wages from jobs outside Westminster.
Ms Hewitt has held jobs simultaneously at Eurotunnel, Alliance Boots, BT Group, Barclays Capital and private equity group Cinven.
In February 2010, the parliamentary register of members' interests showed she had declared an income of £59,475 for 140 hours of work for the BT Group.
She had also registered £23,000 paid for 75 hours of work with Boots and £17,250 for 30 hours with Cinven.
Changes made to strengthen fairness and accountability in the system after the expenses scandal have since seen the grant greatly reduced – though the new system came into force only after Ms Hewitt left office.
As she is no longer an MP and does not have to register earnings, it is not known how much she receives from those jobs now.
She was unavailable for comment yesterday.