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  • MPs want exemption from Freedom of Information!

    by Sunny
    30th January, 2007 at 2:14 am    

    What a surprise - MPs want an exemption from the Freedom of Information Act. Conservative party MP David MacLean is trying to quietly pass such a bill through (via Unity). So far only the Guardian seems to have noticed this:

    A bill to exempt MPs from inquiries made under the Freedom of Information Act was sneaked through the Commons last Friday without any debate. On the day Westminster was convulsed by the revelations surrounding the dawn arrest of Ruth Turner, the senior Downing Street aide, in the cash-for-honours investigation, MPs approved on the nod the second reading of a bill to exclude parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.

    Norman Baker, Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, who last month won a decision at the information tribunal forcing the disclosure of more details of MPs’ travel expenses, said last night: ” This proposal is outrageous. What particularly amazes me is that everyone knows government whips can easily object to a private member’s bill and stop it going anywhere. In this case the government whips were silent, which I can only assume means they are secretly sympathetic to this proposal as it fits in with their plans to curb the Freedom of Information Act.”

    Suffice to say MPs should not be allowed to escape FoI inquiries. Index on Censorship magazine has published a strong letter against this, with support from English PEN and Article 19.

    The bill now seeks to put MPs beyond the reach of the Act, when surely they should be the most accountable individuals in the UK. In addition, it proposes that Parliament as a whole, the most important of all our public institutions, be exempted from the Act.

    This would put the UK out of step even with the newest and most fragile European democracies, such as Bosnia and Serbia, who have recently legislated to open up their parliaments to public scrutiny.

    Wtf? Why isn’t more noise being made about this? Unity reckons bloggers should be making a fuss over this and I agree.

                  Post to

    Filed in: Civil liberties,Party politics

    21 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. Martin Stabe » links for 2007-01-31

      [...] Pickled Politics: MPs want exemption from Freedom of Information! Sunny Hundal notices the FOI (Amendment) Bill: “Why isn’t more noise being made about this? Unity reckons bloggers should be making a fuss over this and I agree.” (tags: foi foia parliament) [...]

    1. douglas clark — on 30th January, 2007 at 6:55 am  

      This is ridiculous. David MacLean is a disgrace. Another example of the desire to be unaccountable.

      Liars and scoundrels the lot of them.

    2. Anon+1 — on 30th January, 2007 at 10:18 am  

      No way should this be passed.

    3. Billy — on 30th January, 2007 at 10:26 am  

      *bangs head on desk*

      *notices I’m agreeing with “Anon+1″*

      *bangs head on desk some more*

    4. Duc De Nemours — on 30th January, 2007 at 10:27 am  

      I bloody love this site but I’m sorry Douglas that’s just not good enough. Yes that’s right they are all liars and scoundrels. Just as Sunny says WTF at Maclean’s bill, your elected representatives look at your post and say exactly the same thing. Very ‘progressive’. It just makes me want to cry. Pathetic.

      I am in fact a bag carrier of the lowest order for a little known MP. Some MPs are rapacious bastards who you just know would liquidise kittens for the sake of their careers, most (no really most) are not. Often the problem is that regardless of your own affiliation you just don’t agree with them.

      There is an issue with the FOI (and indeed the data protection act) and MPs offices in that they are not really public bodies in the way that say the Home Office is and they are clearly not private citizens. Under FOI regulations it is possible that constituent’s emails can be released. On a slightly different point, I’ve worked for MPs who have been ‘FOIed’ by the local council (that just so happens to be run by another political party) for reasons that border on the political and others whose letters are passed on to local councillors (who again are members of an opposing party). Oddly enough, some constituents have found this unacceptable. What’s more some of them were actually more likely to vote against my boss at the time. Maclean’s Private Member’s Bill seems to be trying to stop this sort of thing by making correspondence between MPs and their constituents strictly a matter between constituent and MP.

      I am not convinced this is a good idea or practicable. The sort of fudging along that currently exists is just about acceptable, and, regardless of what the Guardian says, I promise you the bill will fail.

      Furthermore, judging from some of the letters I see, some punters actually think that the only way to get accountability in public bodies is through their MP (no really and again i think it is important to note that a number of them will happily admit they wouldn’t vote for my boss in a million years). I don’t know if exempting MPs from FOI legislation will improve their ability to hold various bodies to account but, guess what, if you actually knew what you were talking about you can see that it could.

      Argue about whether it’s a bloody stupid idea all you like but it certainly doesn’t deserve to be slapped down as another example of the desire to be unaccountable. Work for an MP and try phoning almost any utility company’s customer services on behalf of someone old and cold becasue their heating is screwed and you will understand all you need to know about the desire to be unaccountable.

    5. Leon — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:09 am  

      So much for the new cuddly, lovable liberal Conservatives eh? Seems to me they share the same love of Neo Labour: sneaking through their real agenda when [they think] nobody’s looking.

    6. sonia — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:17 am  

      Thanks for pointing this out - absolutely it’s an outrage!! What next - MPs will be saying that they should be exempt from laws in general or something. Yes a big fuss needs to be made..

      *runs off*

    7. Leon — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:19 am  

      I sometimes wonder if we’ll see the day when they vote to outlaw elections…

    8. Unity — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:25 am  

      Duc De Nemours:

      I appreciate what you’re saying here about the rather between two stools position that MPs occupy in regards to FOIA and the Data Protection Act, although on the latter the biggest problem is that very few people understand the damn thing well enough to apply it properly - and that’s me speaking as someone who was a registered data controller for five years and whose job it was to understand the bugger.

      The point I made was essentially that the solution to such problems does not lie in using a legislative shotgun to blow a gaping hole in FOIA. MPs have a need to be able to engage in privileged communications on behalf of their constituents - that’s not a problem - but a blanket exemption is excessive and wide open to abuse, and this a problem for me.

      That’s why as well as publicising this bill, I’ve also submitted an FOIA request for any correspondence between MacLean (and any other MPs) on this precise issue and any prior guidance issued by the Information Commissioner.

      What I want to see is the full background to this and whether MacLean has either taken advice from, or raised this with the ICO before submitting the Bill. Once that arrives, or its confirmed that no guidance has been asked for or taken, then I can make a fully informed judgement on MacLean’s actions.

    9. douglas clark — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:26 am  

      Duc de Nemours,

      I do not see how this kind of catch all legislation can even get to first base. It is perfectly clear to me that communication between a constituent and an MP should be private, unless they both agree to publication. That is not in dispute. Much in the same way as our consultations with a GP should be viewed as a private matter.

      It is not the lack of accountability over that that angers me, it is the catch all nature of the exclusion. And as the Liberal said it wouldn’t have got this far without the complicit agreement of at least the Labour whips.

      Where there is money, there is scandal, whether it is cash for questions, or honours or contracts.

      Our Parliament, y’know the one we elect, should have the highest standards of public scrutiny possible. You may recall that previous Parliamentary ombudsmen were given a hard time too. This arrogance of the elected is something we as an electorate, should look out for. And scream at them from the rooftops, if need be. Perhaps they will ignore me, frankly I was quite astonished that they’d even read me, but a line has to be drawn somewhere. Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? We do, in the final analysis.

    10. sonia — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:28 am  

      Heh Duc. sounds like you need a new job ( and maybe your MP as well - sounds like they’ve not got much of an idea of the point of being an MP)

      MPs are elected representatives - they are pretty much the public’s only directly accountable person in government - so whaddya expect? the screwy thing is of course that instead of MPs thinking ‘hey my constituents are the ones that elected me, they’re the ones i represent, they’re the ones i work for, their interests are my job’ - no - usually - it’s the Party whose interests MPs seem more bothered about - toeing the party line - and their own careers - which would be fair enough in as much as ‘well if i dont keep my job then the job of representing my constituents’ wouldn’t be done. Yeah sure - in theory - but when the constituents are little more than ‘hey someone’s got to vote me in’ - the reality is pretty different. And given this situation - is it surprising that constituents might want to have some ‘freedom of information’ applied to their MPs?

    11. Chairwoman — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:29 am  

      Any day now, Leon. Before June do you think? Then what? Ah yes, new position, President for Life.

    12. Leon — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:51 am  

      Any day now, Leon. Before June do you think? Then what? Ah yes, new position, President for Life.

      Knowing Tony it’d probably be ‘The Reverend In Chief’.

    13. sonia — on 30th January, 2007 at 11:59 am  

      as you say Leon - who knows..wouldn’t put it past ‘em !

    14. Duc De Nemours — on 30th January, 2007 at 12:12 pm  

      Oh balls. I bloody love ministry of truth too. I feel so dirty.

      Actually I agree with Unity and Douglas in that applying for exemption from FOI is like taking a sledgehammer to a nut. As i alluded to earlier it will mean that councils and the like would have to put systems in place that are just not practicable. I also
      think that Unity is absolutely right when asking about Maclean’s FOI activity. You will probably find he has been on the wrong end, as he sees it, of a request.

      I think my main problem was with what I considered the (ahem) ad hominem nature of Douglas’ comment which I probably did little to help with going off on one. Sorry. Derogating from any legislation is something that needs to be done clearly and, frankly, if that’s what they want then they should fight for it tooth and nail with people like Douglas finding multiple roof tops to shout off. I might even join you (from a safe distance obviously and unless you don’t want me to).

      Furthermore, I found Norman Baker’s comment disingenuous in saying that the government whips somehow let it slip through. Friday is trainspotters day in the House. It is not difficult to slip stuff through on a Friday if you want to as it is rarely whipped that strictly. Also letting some tory slip through what seems to be a anti-libertarian piece of legislation when Dave and his mates are being all touchy-feely would make sense politically to even the dimmest of whips.

      People like Dismore, Forth (when he was alive obviously) and that bald bloke from the lib dems seem to find it great fun arguing over procedure and all that stuff. Speaking as a voter, this is far more of a turn off than any of the bills that get thrown up by friday business.

      Anyway, I just think that in this instance you are barking up the wrong bit of the tree.

    15. douglas clark — on 30th January, 2007 at 1:28 pm  

      Duc de Nemours,

      One of the themes on this site, over the last wee while, has been a desire to see democracy become more accountable, rather than less. Whether it is obvious within the Palace of Westminster or not, it does seem to be the case that people are being increasingly turned off party politics, although not politics as such. The rise of groups like Greenpeace, MCB, Countryside Alliance, ad infinitum, is probably a reaction to the often juvenile behaviour of our elected representatives.

      If the Labour Whips thought it would be a jolly jape to let through a piece of anti-libertarian legislation, just so Cameron would have a red face, then they are not serious custodians of government. And if it makes sense to them then heaven help us.

      I know that the Commons is denuded on a Friday, what with MPs returning to their constituencies and all, but it was the second reading of the Bill. MPs were at least aware of it’s content. It was also, that horrible expression, “a good day to bury bad news”. Or, in this case, hope nobody noticed.

      I apologise if you were offended by my intemperate language, but they do need to be held to account.

      Tell you what, if this comes to anything, you can shout from the top of the Post Office Tower and I’ll do it from the Glasgow Science Tower. Is that a safe enough distance for you?

    16. Duc De Nemours — on 30th January, 2007 at 2:01 pm  


    17. sonia — on 30th January, 2007 at 2:49 pm  

      “Whether it is obvious within the Palace of Westminster or not, it does seem to be the case that people are being increasingly turned off party politics, although not politics as such”

      spot on..

    18. Bert Preast — on 30th January, 2007 at 4:01 pm  

      Can the Lords save us?

    19. Unity — on 30th January, 2007 at 5:25 pm  

      The point to make about this sliding through unnoticed is that MacLean is a former Tory whip and knows how best to work the system, which is why he’ll have made sure it appeared on a Friday when he knows that most of the House is back in their constituencies and the agenda is mostly tedious secondary legislation.

    20. Amit — on 31st January, 2007 at 4:15 pm  

      I’ve been saying this stuff for years, I already predicted it happening some time ago, (a conversation I’ve had with many people) that this very thing would happen. More and more spying on the people and less monitoring of the politicians so that they can get away with murder while every breath of the public is tracked.

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