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Billericay tricky

Martin Rosenbaum | 17:14 UK time, Saturday, 19 May 2007

The MPs who backed the Bill yesterday to exempt Parliament from FOI say they are worried about cases where personal information about their constituents could be disclosed by public authorities due to freedom of information.

I've been on the lookout for any examples of this actually happening - ie, cases where public authorities have under FOI put into the public domain correspondence from MPs which contains personal data about constituents, where that personal data should not be disclosed. From the information provided in the debate yesterday in the Commons I have only found it possible to track down one alleged instance of anything like this.

Simon Burns, the Tory MP for West Chelmsford, referred to a newspaper using FOI to obtain correspondence between Bob Russell, the LibDem MP for Colchester, and Colchester Council. I think he is probably talking about this.

However this article doesn't tell the people of Billericay anything about the contents of Mr Russell's letters, let alone any personal data about his constituents. It just recounts how many letters he writes, which in his case is quite a lot.

Is this really illegitimate FOI-based journalism on the part of the Billericay Weekly News? Well, as it happens, this kind of thing won't actually be stopped by the Maclean Bill. The Bill would only prevent public authorities releasing the contents of MPs' letters, not information about the numbers they receive.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 04:36 PM on 20 May 2007,
  • Paul Dockree wrote:


The rage with which people like Simon Hughes are attacking this Amendment show how little merit it has. As a once proud British subject - it took less than a day for the new broom prospective Prime Minister to show it will be business as usual in a post-Blair Great Britain.

The day after the Uriah Heep act (every so 'umble, Mr Cooperfield) he could have stood up and squashed this Amendment to the FOI but like so many of the seemingly tacit approvers of David Maclean's proposal - there he was - gone!

I didn't know Mr Maclean suffered from MS until today (I noticed a walking stick on Friday but paid no heed to it) but now he seems fair game to the tabloid to scream hypocrisy over paying for a quad bike etc.

Too many people in Britain now talk down to the public and tell us it is all about all the good they do but so little is actually done.

A police chief talks about the George Orwell nightmare via CCTV cameras on every street corner again today - like the Information Commission a few weeks ago.

And yet CCTV isn't the only way ....... oh never mind. The BBC has disappointed me too I am afraid. And that IS another story or two.

  • 2.
  • At 06:13 PM on 22 May 2007,
  • Phil Bowers wrote:

What a totally ridiculous bill! IF there really is a problem of private material being made public due to the phrasing or interpretation of the FOI, then urgent action is required on this. To make MPs exempt is only taking the pressure off such reform (if it is needed). It may be that clearer guidance is all that is needed.

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