Thursday, May 17, 2007

Maclean Bill returns to Commons on Friday

David Maclean MP's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill will be debated again this Friday (May 18th) when its report stage continues in the Commons.

The Bill would remove Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and create a new exemption for MPs' communications with public authorities. It has been explained as a measure that would protect the privacy of MPs' constituents.

In a letter to MPs, the Campaign for Freedom of Information has said it believes the bill is unnecessary for this purpose. It says correspondence sent by an MP to a public authority on behalf of a constituent is already exempt under the FOI Act's existing exemptions. Moreover, the Campaign says this does not explain why it is proposed to remove Parliament itself (which does not hold MPs' correspondence) from the FOI Act's scope.

A separate briefing by the Campaign refers to a speech made this week by the Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament calling for New Zealand's Official Information Act to be extended to cover the New Zealand Parliament.

The briefing concludes:
"For Parliament to exclude itself from the Act would send a deeply negative message to the rest of the public sector. It would suggest that MPs consider that the drawbacks of compliance outweigh the public benefit. That would make it harder for those conscientious officials who are trying to persuade their colleagues to adopt an open approach and reinforce the views of authorities which are themselves resisting disclosure."
Today's Times has a joint letter signed by Article 19, the Campaign for FOI, Index on Censorship, Justice, Liberty and Unlock Democracy:
"We hope MPs will not support this measure, which would undermine their accountability to constituents. To pass this Bill would send an extraordinary signal to the public: MPs feel an obligation to pay lip service to transparency but are unwilling to take on serious openness obligations themselves."
And the Telegragh has published a joint letter from the TaxPayers' Alliance, Norman Baker MP (Lib Dem), Douglas Carswell MP (Con), Mark Fisher MP (Lab) and Heather Brooke:
"Sometimes information may be politically embarrassing, but if Members of the House of Commons support this change of culture and the right of taxpayers to know how their money is being spent, then they must set an example and oppose this Bill. Otherwise, the charge of hypocrisy will cause public trust in politicians to erode even further than it already has."
See also:

The credibility of Parliament is at stake, Mark Fisher MP - The Independent

Leading article: Cynical and slippery behaviour - The Independent

Why should MPs vote themselves a privacy law? - The Daily Mail

1 comment:

jon.bright said...

Hi Katherine, just to let you know we mentioned this post in OurKingdom, a new blog discussing issues in British identity, politics and constitutional affairs run by openDemocracy. We've also added you to our blogroll, would love it if you could return the favour!

Best wishes,

Jon Bright