UK Liberty

A shameful day for Parliament

Posted in accountability, freedom of information by ukliberty on May 19, 2007

The Freedom from Scrutiny Bill made it to the Lords after Third Reading, winning 95 votes to 25 in the Commons (also see Martin Rosenbaum’s FOI blog).

Tory backbencher David Maclean, who is sponsoring it, said it would protect MPs’ correspondence.

During the debate, Mr Maclean said his bill was necessary “to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of members of parliament, on behalf of our constituents and others, to a public authority remains confidential”

But it is drawn much more widely than that.

This bill is a disgrace!

But what also is a disgrace is how few MPs turned up to vote: less than 20%.  Of course, most go home on a Friday.

The BBC has kindly produced a list of those MPs who backed it: 78 Labour and 18 Tories (not sure how that adds up to 95…).

Jack Straw apologised for his comment about the Information Commissioner last week.

Apparently some people are calling for Gordon Brown to block the bill. Well, as his office pointed out, he doesn’t have the power to do that. I wonder if he voted against it, however, after pledging his support for openness and transparency.

Some moments from the debate:

Norman Baker: Indeed. The suggestion by the hon. Member for West Chelmsford (Mr. Burns) is like suggesting that if a murder is committed, we should pass a further law making murder a criminal offence because the original law clearly did not work. That argument is a non sequitur.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman will know that Members of Parliament are not usually reluctant to complain. I asked the Library how many complaints had been made before the introduction of this Bill by Members about correspondence being released without their permission. The Library was, as usual, very diligent, but could find only one Member—my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (John Smith)—who intervened in a debate about Liverpool. That was the only recorded protest on the Floor of the House by a Member of Parliament before this Bill. Members of Parliament are not usually reluctant to raise issues when they believe that they are essential to their standing.

Mr. Richard Shepherd (Aldridge-Brownhills) (Con): Has the hon. Gentleman considered the important point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mark Fisher), that in a widely leaked brief from the parliamentary Labour party urging support for this dire Bill, there is a request for evidence? That is evidence after the fact, because no evidence for the Bill is available.

Simon Hughes: On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is there any way of formally recording in the Official Report or the Orders of the Day that a Third Reading debate has taken place with only the promoter of the Bill, and no one else, speaking in support of it?

Mr. Deputy Speaker: That is not a point of order for the Chair, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.

Update

The Sunday Times:

Where was Gordon Brown, the prime minister in waiting, in all this? On Thursday evening, those lucky enough to be in the Labour party’s address book received an e-mail from Mr Brown saying that one of his main priorities would be “building trust in our democracy”. Less than 24 hours later, Mr “Macavity” Brown was well away from the scene of the crime when MPs voted to keep their affairs secret. According to his spokesman: “If MPs have voted this measure through then that is a matter for them.”

That’s put rather better than the BBC article.  Yes, Brown should have persuaded his ‘honourable’ friends to vote against the bill.

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