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Maclean Bill lacks a Lords sponsor

Martin Rosenbaum | 00:04 UK time, Thursday, 14 June 2007

It is now generally assumed that the Bill to exempt Parliament from freedom of information - the 'Maclean Bill' - is dead.

This is because no peer had decided to sponsor it and obtain a second reading debate for it in the Lords by last night's deadline. This does not guarantee for certain that it has come to an end. Parliamentary procedure does still allow for it to be revived later in the session. But it has now missed a crucial window of opportunity to make progress. Even if someone does emerge to sponsor it later it will have major difficulties in getting sufficient debating time given the other business in the Lords between now and the end of the session.

For some this will be a victory for transparency in public life. For others it represents the frustration of the will of the elected House, because any peer feels too intimidated by the prospect of media attention to sponsor the Bill.

Wherever freedom of information has been introduced it has prompted a reaction from some of those subject to it who want to reduce its impact. It looks like this is the end to the first such dispute in the UK.

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If this is the end of the matter then it leaves freedom of information law in an unfortunate situation in relation to correspondence from MPs taking up constituency concerns. It is generally agreed that such correspondence should not be disclosable under FOI. There is no explicit rule which says it shouldn't. Some people claim that the coincidence of data protection rules and the interaction built in to the FOIA makes disclosure impossible, but the fact that MPs have documented instances when their correspondence was disclosed must inevitably cast doubt on that. (It's rather like saying "We know it happens in fact, but in theory it's impossible so you must have been imagining it")

  • 2.
  • At 11:54 AM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Douglas wrote:

Hooray!

I'm H-A-P-P-Y, I'm H-A-P-P-Y ... :)

  • 3.
  • At 02:30 PM on 14 Jun 2007,
  • Mike Holt wrote:

David Boothroyd raises interesting points in his post, yet the fault does not lie with the Freedom of Information Act, the fault that he is refering to actually lies with the Data Protection Act and how this is applied by local authorities. If anything, the Government should be more explicit in their guidance on Data Protection to ensure that this is interpreted properly and the instances that David refers to avoided.

Three points:

First - Martin - do you have any proof that what discouraged potential Lords' sponsors was the threat of media attention? By "Feral Beast" standards I thought Mr Maclean got quite reasonable treatment;

Second, I think David Boothroyd is wrong to say that constituents' protection depends on some chance interaction between FOIA and DPA; the FOIA itself contains explicit exemptions for "information received in confidence" - which would clearly cover confidential letters between MPs and constitutents;

Third, it's disingenuous to say that any law 'makes abuse impossible'. The law says what's allowed or not; people still have to act in accordance with the law, or risk detection and enforcement.

Robin -
Thanks for the question. I now realise what I wrote above was a little ambiguous. What I meant was the point about intimidation was part of what 'others think', not necessarily my own view. However personally I do believe it was one factor, and that is based on conversations I have had.
Martin

  • 6.
  • At 05:42 PM on 15 Jun 2007,
  • Paul Dockree wrote:

Oh dear. I am bereft - is it really dead? How can they tell. Like Count Dracula it comes back as a different animal each time - saying "trust me - I am your friend" and then bites you somewhere painful.

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