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Next stop - the Lords

Martin Rosenbaum | 14:17 UK time, Friday, 18 May 2007

The Bill to exempt MPs from freedom of information has passed the House of Commons, as the tactical manoeuvres of those backing it proved superior to the tricks employed by the smaller number of MPs who are opposed.

This is testament to the organising ability of the MPs behind the Bill, as well as the support it has received from the backbench officers of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Of the 96 MPs who backed the Bill in the final vote, there were 78 Labour and 18 Tories (and no LibDems).

Now it will go to the Lords, where it will again encounter some fierce opposition, particularly but not exclusively from some Liberal Democrat Peers. It has already this afternoon been subjected to a sideswipe in the Lords from the Tory, Lord (Kenneth) Baker. But doubtless David Maclean, the MP who has successfully guided the Bill so far, has got his ideas about how to get it through the Lords too.

The debate in the Commons this morning was mainly noted for the tedious parliamentary time-wasting that was tactically required by the situation. The biggest laugh (unintentionally obtained) went to the justice minister Bridget Prentice when she stated the government was neutral on the Bill.

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  • 1.
  • At 03:51 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Phil Bradshaw wrote:

David Macleans intention is "to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of members of parliament, on behalf of our constituents and others, to a public authority remains confidential".

His Bill singularly fails to make any change in the law in this respect. Making an exemption available under FOIA provides no such guarantees as an authority has no obligation to use an exemption just because it is available. An exemption is not a prohibition.

The Bill therefore adds nothing of any legal consequence to the existing Act. How much taxpayers money has been expended discussing this flummery ?

  • 2.
  • At 03:53 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Joseph wrote:

Lets hope that the House of Lords shows the courage that our 'elected' members seem so unwilling to do.

How is it possible for MP's to say that all other Public Sector entities must adhere to the FOI whilst at the same time making themselves exempt?.

This is yet another example of MP's doing the exact opposite of what they were elected to do, and thier reasons for doing so absolutly rubbish.

  • 3.
  • At 04:05 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Steve wrote:

Is it no wonder there is a feeling amongst many that all politicians are feathering their own nests, liars and crooks??
The Data Protection Act covers what they are whining about....this move just hides dodgey cash etc
I hope the Lords kill it off.


  • 4.
  • At 04:14 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Chris Hills wrote:

Unbelievable. MPs create laws that everyone must obey except themselves. In the past they have banned smoking in public buildings except for the palace of Westminster, they have imposed a tax on large pension pots except for MPs and high court judges, they have tried to exempt themselves from workplace parking charges, and now they exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act. What a bunch of self serving hypocrites.

  • 5.
  • At 04:26 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Stuart wrote:

How can they get away with this, is quite disgusting.

The FOI allows the public to keep a check on these unscrupulous MPs.

If this law gets past, then how the hell are we suppose to check what the our elected MPs and ministers are upto?

Its obvious they want to close down the public information in order to keep the publics noses out.

  • 6.
  • At 05:23 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Munin wrote:

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The FoI act was a powerful tool for everyone from private people to pressure groups to keep an eye on the doings of government and arguably one of the greatest steps forward for democracy in the UK in recent times. It is really depressing to see it eroded as soon as it was demonstrated that it actually worked.

Especially when these changes are pushed through using obfuscation and scaremongering.

  • 7.
  • At 05:26 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Keith Kondakor wrote:

We have a rigged voting system, which means that either the Labour MPs or the Tories MPs control the country. Our MPs set their own rate of pay well above that which can be justified. Now they want to stop our rights to obtain information about their work (or lack of it) and how much they cost us.

We need to change the system so that the public can veto acts of parliament that gives any privilege (or pay rise) for MPs or Lords.

  • 8.
  • At 06:09 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Bill. wrote:

So the pigs have voted to be able to keep their snouts in the trough without public scrutiny! Is it any wonder that, in the public eye, politics is the most sleazy of occupations, with a politician's credibility lower than that of a used car salesman? Not education, education and education, but sleaze, sleaze and sleaze!

  • 9.
  • At 06:57 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • anthony wrote:

I do hope Labour do not support such a backward Bill. I am sure this will be the last nail in the coffin as regards support at the next election for Labour, It certainly will be for me and I bet for thousands of other voters. I never thought I would become so apathetic towards politics. No wonder voters at our elections are diminishing. We have two main Party's both Tory.

  • 10.
  • At 06:59 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Paul Dockree wrote:

There is not a great deal of shame in that Place as far as Government MPs are concerned, is there, Martin?

Why the need to get this Amendment through with the derision of other MPs being heaped on their heads? Hypocrisy rules in Westminster,

Assuming it passes the Lords test - I just wonder where my case's correspondence figures? Letters from a deceased MP on behalf of a deceased ex constituent but with the child involved in the case (me) with an interest. Oddly through ignorance perhaps I am taking this FOI Amendment Bill rather as a personal slight.

And the time it is taking for the Information Commissions office to make a decision on my appeal - it may well be a further factor or hurdle - rather late in the day don't you think?

  • 11.
  • At 07:40 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Tony wrote:

Hmmm, so a civil servant's work is subject to FOIA - but MP's in their arrogance thinks that their should not be?

How can you trust a word any one of them says when they demand one rule for them and one for the rest of us.

They may just sink below estate agents in respect after this vote

Its sad but true but we have to rely on an unelected chamber to force this lot to see sense

Our MP's should be ashamed of themselves.However the BBC should be carefull not to be too high and mighty in its tone when it reports this given that the BBC sought to use its own exemption to maximum effect and suppress the Balen report.

We fund you and we fund our political representatives and both should be accountable to us through Freedom of Information.

  • 13.
  • At 08:29 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • barry winetrobe wrote:

So no-one from the SNP voted against the Bill? This is despite its Whip, Pete Wishart, telling a Scottish Sunday tabloid on May 13: “It’s appalling and unacceptable that after introducing Freedom of Information, Parliament should try to exempt themselves from it. “We’ll be doing all we can to block it.” []

  • 14.
  • At 10:00 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • RobT wrote:

Its surely no coincidence that the BBC website story also features a link to an article about sky-high expenses claims by MPs.

Whilst Labour continue their Stalinist obsesion with creating civil-liberty busting legislation, it appears that on this occasion their more than happy to side with the Tories.

Lining their own pockets? Indeed.

  • 15.
  • At 10:24 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Jon wrote:

History will not look favourably on David Maclean.

  • 16.
  • At 10:27 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Mick Bishop wrote:

I agree with all the comments relating to this subject. A government that inposess laws on it`s people, but not on it`s self is nothing more than a dictatorship. A government that constantly imposess restrictive laws on it`s people, in the name of the people, yet conducts itself in secrecy is not a democracy. This is a sad day for this country, and further undermines my faith in the very people that are supposed to protect freedom and democracy.

  • 17.
  • At 10:43 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Voter wrote:

I am getting that familiar feeling of being treated with contempt by my MP David Ma'clean' who sponsored this bill. Why the need for such secrecy? It seems such a pity because I'm sure there must be some MP's with integrity in every party, but alas, they are so few! What a shower!

  • 18.
  • At 10:49 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Barbara McInnis wrote: - regularly alerts me by email when my local MP speaks in the House.
It also displays every Member of Parliament's expenses/biography/declaration of interests. Having looked at some MP's expenses on the website today - it is no wonder they wish to hide this information. A revelation for ordinary members of the general public such as myself - existing on paltry pensions.

  • 19.
  • At 10:52 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Andrew Crawley wrote:

Unaccountable men in grey suits? Hiding the truth? Cover-ups? Plausible deniability?

Mmmm! I smell a conspiracy. Perhaps Mulder and Scully of the X-Files should be called in.

The truth is out there. It's just not in our 'great' parliament.

  • 20.
  • At 11:21 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Ian Lowe wrote:


Just how low will this parliament stoop? They have eroded our freedoms more in the last four years than in the forty before it, and now they want to protect their skulking from any scrutiny.

David Maclean joins the hall of shame.

  • 21.
  • At 11:28 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • thomas barton wrote:

Constituents should show their disapproval by voting the mp,s out at the next election

  • 22.
  • At 11:38 PM on 18 May 2007,
  • Ed Peckham wrote:

This news is beyond belief. I am not easily shocked but this has hit the spot. These liars who claim some altruistic reason for their exclusion from the law. They are irritated by the kind of questions they are getting asked, and are using this as an excuse to get out of it.

I work in the public sector and see the waste of time that has been created (and cost in public money) by this act and the trivial things people ask for. Many of these enquiries are MPs themselves trawling for something they can stand up and be sanctimonious about.

The talk of confidentiality is absolutely laughable. If they believe this then they are naive and stupid. Otherwise they are being disingenuous. I would be ashamed and embarrassed to be an MP, and feel they sould reassess their choice of career!

My problem with this is mainly that if we have an FOIA there is no group who should be open to it more than MPs.

  • 23.
  • At 12:03 PM on 19 May 2007,
  • Iain wrote:

Those MPs who supported Mr Maclean's bill, by in effect setting Parliament outside the Act, have sent an extremely negative message to the rest of the public sector (and everyone else, for that matter).

Obviously they consider that the drawbacks of complying with Freedom of Information legislation by being subject to it outweigh the public benefit.

Among other things, This will now make it harder for conscientious public sector staff who are trying to persuade their organisations to adopt an open approach. It will also strengthen the arm of those public organisations who are resisting disclosure.

All in all, pretty dismal!

However, the Lords may scupper it and for those still interested in finding out what our Members of Parliament are up to, I recommend you take a look at the Environmental Information Regulations-these have only a few exceptions to disclosure and all require the public interest to be considered!

MP travel costs as an environmental impact anyone?

  • 24.
  • At 04:05 PM on 20 May 2007,
  • pauline james wrote:

His actions just confirm, once again
what a hypocritical bunch most of them are.

Self first, party second and the electorate can definately go stuff themselves.

What a dispicable, self interested, thick skinned set of morons.

Just how stupid do they think the electorate are?

I am sick and tired of politicians of this ilk.

  • 26.
  • At 10:39 AM on 21 May 2007,
  • AdamClark wrote:

How seedy, how sleazy, and how low. And how insulting to our intelligence to claim that it's in order to protect the confidentiality of constituents' letters to MPs! God save us from this nest of snakes that are our politicians.

We must write to our representatives in the Lords to urge them to quash this. You can do this via this website:

  • 27.
  • At 01:15 PM on 22 May 2007,
  • Douglas wrote:

If someone took my savings and spent it, I'd kinda want to know what they had spent it on - after the ritual nose-punching :)

Our MPs take public money and spend it on who knows what - lucky bags (this is a confection, not a reference to cabinet ministers of dubious repute)? call girls? call boys? holidays? donations to the BNP?

I've read suggestions that David Maclean, the 'honourable' member who introduced this bill, got through about £130,000 in expenses last year; That kind of money could pay for another couple of nurses for the troubled NHS, so it would be nice to know that it had been spent wisely for the benefit of Mr Macleans constituents, but then Mr Maclean seeks to deny us this knowledge ....

Now, when the public wish to know how THEIR (public) money is spent the collective MPs' response is 'none of your business'.
These are the same MPs who stand up in the House and address each other as 'honourable members' or even 'right honourable members'.

  • 28.
  • At 02:19 PM on 20 Jun 2007,
  • Thomas Slattery wrote:

Politicians wonder why the electorate don't vote anymore!

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