Freedom of Information

The FoI amendment protects MPs not constituents

21 May 2007

Maurice Frankel (London, CFoI): Contrary to what Graham Allen says below in his post, the Maclean bill is not about protecting MP's constituents’ privacy. That is obvious from its drafting. The bill exempts any correspondence between an MP and a public authority, including his or her lobbying about policy issues which the public should be able to see. An amendment to limit the exemption to letters about identifiable constituents was rejected by the Bill’s supporters on Friday, including Graham Allen.

In any event, personal data about constituents is already protected by existing exemptions. If such correspondence is nevertheless being wrongly disclosed - and there’s not much evidence of this - its not just MPs’ correspondence that may be at risk, but sensitive correspondence from other sources too. For MPs to respond by removing themselves from the Act, rather than putting the problem right, is irresponsible.

If the public's’ privacy was the bill’s purpose, why exempt Parliament itself from the FOI Act? Parliament doesn’t hold MPs' correspondence. The move ensures that there will be no probing of security lapses, safety problems, commercial use of Parliamentary premises or failures to control spending on contracts or buildings. The sad truth is the bill is not designed to protect constituents but to keep them in the dark.

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