UK Liberty

hypocrites

Posted in accountability, freedom of information by ukliberty on May 14, 2007

The Telegraph (with my emphasis in bold):

This Friday [18 May], MPs will once again debate a backbench Bill to exempt them and Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

The bill can be found on the Parliament website, along with amendment papers and research notes.


Private Member’s Bills rarely become law without Government support and certainly never do in the teeth of Government opposition. This is because they need time to get through Parliament and this commodity is in the gift of the executive.

Also remember that one MP could have blocked it at Second Reading. Not one objected.

Until now, Labour business managers have given the impression that they would stand back and watch as the Bill, championed by David Maclean, a former Tory chief whip, fell by the wayside because of the limited number of hours that could be devoted to it.

There are many hopeful MPs trying to get their pet project on to the statute book and there are just so many Fridays on which they can be debated.

However, the Government is no longer maintaining a pretence of neutrality. Jack Straw, the Commons leader – who, as Home Secretary, helped steer the FoI Act through Parliament seven years ago – told MPs last Thursday that he supported the Bill.

He said it was never the intention of including Parliament within the Act’s provisions because of the risk that confidential letters sent by constituents could be obtained under the FoI.

So they are incompetent as well as hypocritical.

There is no evidence that this has ever happened and there are exemptions in the FoI Act that prevent the release of such material in order to preserve the integrity of the relationship between MP and constituent.

Well, to be fair, one of the research papers claims public authorities have “disclosed correspondence from Members in relation to FoI requests, even though constituents who have written to Members may not be aware that this correspondence may be releasable”. Apparently the Information Commissioner is updating the guidance for public authorities.

But I haven’t seen any actual examples being provided to backup Straw’s (and Maclean’s) claims.

But Mr Straw said these safeguards were not enough. “It is all very well for some people to say that there are some exemptions, but the truth is that the way that some journalists and the Information Commissioner are acting means that that intention is not being met in practice.”

If that is the case it seems to me we can do three things:

  1. punish the people who are breaking the law;
  2. improve training and guidance; and,
  3. amend the FOIA so just that correspondence is exempt, rather than Parliament in its entirety!

What does he mean by “the way that some journalists and the Information Commissioner are acting”? The former are seeking to “shine a light into the dark corners of the public sector” – which the Government said was the Act’s purpose – and the latter is upholding their right to do so.

But, of course, ministers did not really want transparency at all; they wanted to be congratulated for having legislated to bring it about but the public was not actually meant to be given anything so dangerous as a right to know. Heaven forfend.

The Freedom of Some Information Act. Or perhaps the Freedom of Information that isn’t too controversial for the public to know Act.

Once again we see the distinctive hallmark of New Labour, the yawning gap between rhetoric and achievement. In the immortal words of Lance-Corporal Jones in Dad’s Army: “They don’t like it up ’em.” Ministers have clearly tired of having to divulge all those secrets they were so keen to extract from the executive when they were in opposition but can find a myriad reasons for keeping now they are in office.

The public will draw their own conclusions about its purpose and whether it is a measure designed to stop them finding out what their MP is up to, disguised as something to their advantage.

The Government is using the Maclean Bill as a Trojan horse to bring down the city it built but no longer likes. If MPs vote to support it on Friday, they will undermine years of effort to end the instinctive secrecy of the British political culture.

I would add, nothing to hide, nothing to fear?

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