IT'S little wonder that Britain's MPs have been so reluctant to let their expense account details be published. The first batch of receipts made available yesterday under Freedom of Information rules revealed some highly creative accounting and raised the question of how rigorously the officials of the House of Commons are interpreting the rules before agreeing to hand over the cash.

The perfectly sensible “Second homes allowance” scheme takes into account that many MPs have to maintain two homes if their constituency is not within reasonable distance of Westminster. But immediately to be found among yesterday's revelations was the case of Conservative MP John Wilkinson with his claims for a second home in his distant constituency of Ruislip - 16 miles from the House of Commons. Then Tony Blair is found to have been recompensed for spending around ten thousand pounds on reforming the kitchen of his house in Sedgefield, his constituency - but surely this should have been regarded as his first home, not his second?

There will be much more to come in the autumn when details of all 646 MPs will be made available. At the same time the guidelines by which Commons officials are required to judge claims should also be published so that it is possible to see how sensible they are and how closely they are being followed. Until now the European Parliament has been regarded as running the most lavish Gravy Train. Are we about to find that Strasbourg has a competitor in Westminster?