Freedom of Information

FoI: We can still bury this bill

22 May 2007

Mark Fisher (Stoke-on-Trent, MP): It is sad to see a good MP like Graham Allen, who has a long and honourable track record in supporting Freedom of Information, falling for the non-arguments of the David Maclean Bill.

This is not about protecting the confidentiality of the correspondence between MPs and their constituents. That privacy is well covered by a combination of the FoI and the Data Protection Acts. No evidence beyond anecdote and hearsay has been produced that this privacy is at risk. Indeed the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, has not received a single enquiry or complaint about any breach of privacy either from an MP or from a member of the public. If there is evidence of correspondence being published in breach of the above Acts then there would be a case for an Inquiry, either by the Government or by a Select Committee, into how the Acts are being implemented which could, if necessary, lead to a tightening of the legislation or the issuing of fresh guidance to public bodies about what should or should not be released. If the problem is implementation, the solution is not to exempt Parliament from its provisions but to strengthen or clarify the legislation.

Maclean's Bill will torpedo the FoI Act, after a mere two and a half years. If Parliament removes itself from the Act why should other public bodies worry about implementing it?

If you share my anger and disgust at this Bill, please write to your MP and to the leaders of the political parties. This Bill will now go to the House of Lords who, I hope, will amend it in ways that will, in effect, kill it. It will then return to the Commons. Last Friday it went through the Commons Report Stage because Tony Blair/Gordon Brown and David Cameron remained quiet. One word from them would have called off the Whips who (unofficially) organised the support for David Maclean's Bill. If the Party leaders disassociate themselves from this shabby Bill it will not pass the Commons a second time and the Minister answering for the Government will bestir herself to defend the Government's own legislation instead of feigning 'neutrality'. How strange it is to see a Government stand passive when its own legislation is being dismantled?

Pressure from the public and the media can still bury this Bill - your support is not only needed, but vital.

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