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Martin Rosenbaum | 12:04 UK time, Wednesday, 23 May 2007

David Maclean has now announced that he would like his Bill on MPs and FOI to be amended so that it requires the Commons to publish every year the figures for MPs' travel, accommodation, incidental expenses, secretarial and other allowances.

This would convert the Speaker's pledge to do this into a legal obligation. It will be presented as a compromise and may shore up some of the diminishing support for the Bill. But it would make little difference to its actual practical impact.

The Bill would still exempt Parliament generally from freedom of information. So even if the Commons has to carry on publishing the summary information about MPs' allowances that it already does, it means that MPs would not be threatened by further cases where the Information Commissioner might force them to reveal more and more detail about how they spend their allowances. Some MPs back the Bill because they would find more detailed disclosures uncomfortably intrusive.

And the Bill would also completely rule out other requests (one example here) to the Parliamentary authorities for information relating to how the Houses of Parliament are run.

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  • 1.
  • At 01:59 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • Douglas wrote:

Seems to me that this attempt curtail FOI is, quite simply, our MPs displaying an arrogance and contempt for the people they are allegedly representing.

But, every cloud has a silver lining ... the lib dems are running a petition to completely negate Mr Maclean's bill.

I've signed it, not because I'm a lib dem - though after Iraq and now FOI, I'm certainly warming to them :) - but simply because I believe its the right thing to do.


Please support this petition which resides here ..

http://campaigns.libdems.org.uk/foi

That marks the first time anyone has suggested any other information to be got out of Parliament using FOI other than MPs' expenses, and quite frankly it's not much. It's simply a map of the whole Parliamentary Estate with a line drawn round it, which almost anyone could work out.

The truth is the Bill has never been about allowances at all; it has been about revalation of constituents' problems using FOI requests, which has been proved to happen. The reporting of this Bill across all media has been pathetic, almost as pathetic as the annual parade of deliberate misunderstanding when MPs' allowances are published in fact.

  • 3.
  • At 04:43 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • Peter HOAR wrote:

My Times yesterday, 22 May Page 4 said Gordon maxwell had ordered Mr Maclean’s bill to be changed - link -
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sitesearch.do?query=Philip+Webster&hitsperpage=10&nextOffset=0&offset=0&leftStartIndex=1&leftEndIndex=10&submitStatus=searchFormSubmitted&mode=simple&sectionId=674

And Times 23rd May - Gm has apparently also ordered Lord Falconer to drop the proposed Govt changes to the FOI Act.

None of his FOI activity has yet appeared on Mr Maclean’s constituency website. So which side of the blanket and with whom are they all sleeping this week ? Am I confused ? Do I sound confused ? Peter HOAR

  • 4.
  • At 05:36 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • andy williams wrote:

Mps are behaving like pigs. We the public who pour the money into their little piggy troughs have a right to know exactly what they have done with it. They have a duty and an obligation to be totally upfront and disclose. Anything less is as disgusting as the MPs who support this garbage

  • 5.
  • At 07:40 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • Gavin Holmes wrote:

Is it just me who finds it ironic that this Government hates the public intruding on their business, yet is imposing ID cards linked with the National Identity Register on us, whilst increasing CCTV surveillance and tracking our vehicles?

  • 6.
  • At 10:05 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • IanP wrote:

Gavin,

Most people in discussing FOI are under the misapprehension that this is the governments business that is being kept secret.

ITS NOT. ITS OUR BUSINESS that they do in our name that they are keeping secret, and we have a right to know about it.

THEY WORK FOR US not the other way round.

@ David Boothroyd - the map with the boundary around part of the Parliamentary Estate (it does not include the offices used by the Select Committee secretariats at 7 Millbank) is what prompted the FOIA requests to the Commons and the Lords, rather than the result of any FOIA disclosure.

It was published as part of
Statutory Instrument 2007 No. 930, The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (Designated Sites under Section 128) Order 2007

As of 1st June, it will be possible for a Police Constable in Uniform to arrest anybody who crosses the boundary shown in the map. That includes members of the public, Palace of Westminster staff, journalists and even Members of Parliament or Peers.

Prosecution under Section 128 requires the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions, but arrest, photography, fingerprinting, DNA sampling, footwear impression sampling etc. only requires the opinion of a police constable that you may have committed the offence.

All this data will be retained on file until your 100th birthday, regardless of whether you are ever charged, let alone convicted, and even if you are acquitted.

The FOIA requests are intended to try to see who, if anyone was actually consulted when these boundaries (which already include exemptions within them for Westminster Tube station etc.) were drawn up, and why they include the Public Areas of the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House like Central Lobby or the Committee Rooms.

This could have a chilling effect on people who may wish to lobby their MPs or just observe our Parliamentary democracy in action, in person.

This has nothing to do with MPs' correspondence on behalf of their constituents or about their expenses, it is about a public policy issue affecting two public bodies the Commons and the Lords collectively, and the wider general public at large.

Why should such requests be denied as a result of the Freedom of Information Act (Amendment) Bill ?

  • 8.
  • At 11:08 PM on 23 May 2007,
  • Oliver wrote:

No Gavin, it most definitely is not just you!

And if (as I hope) you're opposed to identity cards, please highlight the government's hypocrisy to supporters of scheme at every opportunity.

  • 9.
  • At 09:03 AM on 24 May 2007,
  • Sam wrote:

Its funny to hear the BBC talk about the FOI act, you would think they would avoid stories like this.

The BBC ueses the FOI act on a regular basis for its reporting, but when the tables are turned and someone wants information about the BBC all of a sudent the BBC don't believe in it.

Wheres the Balen report? Release it and stop being such hypercrits.

  • 10.
  • At 12:49 PM on 24 May 2007,
  • Peter HOAR wrote:

Mr Maclean’s bill has already had its first slippery reading in the Lords, last Monday 21st May. It took less than a minute.
Hansard link - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70521-0002.htm
Began after 3.04 pm 21st May - Bill as brought from the Commons.
“Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill
Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and ordered to be printed.”
Next item of business started at 3.05 pm. Timing from Hansard. Peter HOAR

  • 11.
  • At 05:55 PM on 24 May 2007,
  • Hywel Morgan wrote:

@2 - when has disclosure of constituents correspondence been proved to happen? I've not seen any examples cited. Certinaly the Information Commissioner says he has had no complaints about this happening.

However if it has then it would seem to be a breach of the data protection act. s40 FoI Act provides that information which is covered by the Data Protection act is exempted from FoI requests. In such a case the failure is to apply a piece of legislation correctly so I don't see why passing a new act will help

  • 12.
  • At 09:45 PM on 24 May 2007,
  • Douglas wrote:

I've been reflecting on Mr Maclean's FOI bill and the kind of tactics historically employed by our current government. A favoured ploy is their use of spin - for me, a synonym for deceit - whilst the infamous releasing of information unfavourable to government at the time of terrorist attacks or other high-profile distractions is not easily forgotten.

Applying the above to the current FOI scenario has me thinking that, aware of the predictable public reaction, MPs' expenses is being used as a decoy in order to enact the more general exclusion of the Houses of Parliament.

Is it possible that what really concerns our representatives is that there is damaging (to them)information which is currently available, just waiting on the right request being submitted and so, exempting Parliament is to put such information out of reach? There have been, in my view, a whole string of incidents around which this might apply.

If the current protections for personal correspondence with MPs aren't sufficient, then they're also not sufficient for personal correspondence members of the public might also have with other elected officials and other public authorities in general. A blanket exemption for parliament would clearly not be a solution to this problem (whether or not you think such a problem actually exists).

  • 14.
  • At 12:37 PM on 29 May 2007,
  • Nick Evans wrote:

It's very easy to amend the Bill so that only correspondence is protected: delete clause 1(3), so the Commons and Lords stay within the scope of FoI.

The fact that the Bill's sponsors don't appear to have noticed this suggests that they do wish to conceal matters other than just our correspondence.

  • 15.
  • At 04:12 PM on 29 May 2007,
  • Peter Galbavy wrote:

To invert the governments reasoning on ID cards and CCTV: If they have nothing to hide, then why are they opposed to FoI ?

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