Labour and Conservatives sign up to 'secrecy' bill

June 5, 2007 4:19 PM
Freedom of Information

Mark slammed Labour and Conservative MPs for backing moves to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information regulations

Liberal Democrat MP Mark Hunter has slammed Labour and Conservative MPs for backing moves to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information regulations.

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill was introduced by former Conservative Chief Whip David Maclean to the House of Commons on Friday 18th May 2007, with tacit support from the Government. The bill would exempt both Houses of Parliament and all communications between MPs and public authorities from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. The effect would be to remove any obligation for details of MPs' expenses to be made public. It would also mean that members of the public would not be able to find out what their MP has said to other public bodies for example in responses to public consultation exercises, representations to planning authorities or letters to NHS professionals on the provision of local health services.

Supporters of the Bill say that they are concerned about preventing constituents' correspondence from being disclosed. However, correspondence about constituents' personal affairs which contains personal data is protected by the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

Mark Hunter MP speaking after the debate said "This Bill has brought Parliament into disrupte. I find it unbelievably hypocritical that MPs should require other public officials to reveal their expenses whilst banning people from seeing their own. They seem to think there is one rule for MPs and another for everyone else.

It is clear what has prompted this. Earlier this year, the parliamentary authorities lost a legal battle to keep the details of MPs' travel expenses secret. Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker mounted a successful legal challenge to House of Commons secrecy. As a result, Parliament was forced to declare how much each MP had claimed in travel expenses broken down according to whether it was by car, rail, air or bicycle.

Clearly, some MPs found the publication of this information a bit embarrassing. They don't think they should have to justify to their constituents their publicy funded travel arrangements. They would rather hide behind a wall of secrecy.

The change to the law agreed on Friday was a shameful decision. Whilst Gordon Brown was claiming he was in favour of more accountable government, his own party was conspiring with the Conservatives to lock the doors on open government to deny the people the right to know what their MPs are spending taxpayers' money on. This was a sordid and appalling pact by two parties that say one thing but do another.

There is however a glimmer of hope. The changes have yet to be agreed by the House of Lords. Liberal Democrat peers have said they will be leading the fight on this issue. This bill has also been of great embarrassment to David Cameron and Gordon Brown, and I'm sure we will hear more of it in the House of Commons in due course. In both houses I will give my full backing to stop Labour and Conservatives pulling this veil of secrecy over the actions of MPs."

Liberal Democrat leader the Rt Hon Menzies Campbell has launched a nationwide petition in support of Liberal Democrat moves to stop this bill in the House of Lords. You can sign up to this petition online at http://www.ourcampaign.org.uk/foi.

What would you like to do next?