The government’s fight for secrecy

By Ian Dunt

The government is embroiled in a war on two fronts today, as it struggles to keep the list of MPs’ expenses and the Iraq inquiry secret.

The MPs expenses list was published today, but large parts remain redacted after MPs raised concerns about their safety if their addresses were made public.

Comment: What has the government got to hide?

Parliament’s full list of MPs’ expenses.

That argument has been frowned on by freedom of information campaigners who say some of the worst abuses, such as flipping the second home allowance, are impossible to discover if the addresses remain private.

MPs’ expenses published

Meanwhile, Gordon Brown was struggling to maintain the private status of the inquiry into the Iraq war, announced on Monday, as a coalition grew against it from across the political spectrum. By midday, Downing Street had started to admit the government may perform a U-turn.

Brown hints at Iraq inquiry U-turn

Lord Hutton and Lord Butler – who conducted previous inquires related to the conflict – have voiced disapproval, and his main ally in the Cabinet, children’s secretary Ed Balls, has also come out for public disclosure.

This afternoon, the public administration select committee published a report calling on the inquiry to be made public with “only very limited exceptions to consider the most sensitive evidence”.

“Decisions to conduct particular proceedings in private should be made by members of the inquiry itself, not by the government,” it said.

Tony Wright, chair of the committee, added: “The Iraq inquiry concerns one of the biggest and most contentious issues in British politics in recent times, and it is essential that we get the inquiry right.

“Unfortunately, the proposed inquiry is the wrong kind of inquiry, decided and announced by the government in the wrong kind of way. There is, however, still time to change the terms of the inquiry before it starts work in July.”

Unless it moves quickly, the government could be heading for another Gurkha-style defeat next Wednesday, when Tory attempts to force it to hold the inquiry in public are expecting support from the Liberal Democrats and some Labour backbenchers.