The John Lewis List was a list of the maximum allowable amounts payable in respect of thirty-eight common household items that British Members of Parliament could claim reimbursement for in respect of furnishing their second homes.
Its very existence had previously been a closely guarded secret, until that is it became public knowledge during the course of an Information Tribunal hearing in February 2008 regarding an appeal made by the House of Commons authorities against the ruling of the Information Commissioner that the House of Commons should release details of the expenses paid to members in accordance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.
It was this hearing that revealed the existence of "a confidential list indicating acceptable costs for certain classes of item based on prices derived from the John Lewis website". It appeared that the House of Commons Fees Office had decided to use prices derived from John Lewis on the basis that the February 2007 edition of Which? magazine had rated the John Lewis department store as the best of all retail outlets in terms of cost, customer service and the variety of goods it offered. However perhaps the most surprising information was that not only were the public unaware of the existence of the John Lewis List, but that it had also been kept a secret from MPs themselves. As Andrew Walker, the director-general of resources at the House of Commons explained to the Information Tribunal, "My concern would be that if we say what the maximum price we will allow for such an item is, it will become the going rate".
Nevertheless, although the existence of the John Lewis List was revealed, its actual contents remained under wraps, as the Information Tribunal ruled that it would be examined in a closed session, after the legal representative for the Commons argued that it wasn't the subject of the tribunal hearing. However, once the Press Association and The Times learnt of the existence of the John Lewis List, they both submitted Freedom of Information requests in respect of the list and the document was duly released on 13th March 2008.
Sadly almost as soon as the John Lewis List became public, its death was announced, as in July 2008 the House of Commons agreed to scrap the John Lewis list. As far as its replacement was concerned, the Conservatives put forward a proposal that, in future, payments should be restricted to such things as utility bills, council tax and mortgage interest or rent, and that members should no longer be able to reclaim the cost of furniture, televisions and the suchlike. This was however defeated by a margin of 295 to 238, largely because it was opposed by the Labour government who preferred their alterative proposal, which was that claims for furnishings etc should be restricted to £2,400 a year or 10% of the soon to be infamous Additional Costs Allowance.
The Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Theresa May, complained that the "Government is treating people like fools; they are just replacing the John Lewis list with the IKEA list. MPs should not be able to buy their TVs and furniture at the taxpayer's expense. When will this Labour Government get the message?" (Memo to Ms May - I think they've got the message now.)
The John Lewis List
The thirty-eighth item on the list was the stipulation that "Dry cleaning both personal and household are allowable within reasonable limits".
- Emma Griffiths, 'John Lewis' list kept from MPs, BBC News, 8 February 2008
- Press Association, Commons releases 'John Lewis list' of MPs' allowances, The Guardian, 13 March 2008
- MPs can claim £10,000 kitchens on expenses, The Times, March 14, 2008
- Daniel Bentley, MPs swap 'John Lewis list' for 'Ikea list', The Independent, 16 July 2008