Freedom From Accountability Bill – Back Today.

Thought I’d give everyone a timely reminder that ex-Tory whip David MacLean’s shameful attempt to exempt parliament from the Freedom of Information Act returns to the House of Commons today, and requires another solid filibustering performance from opponents to talk the bill out.

Couple of quick points to pick up, here.

MacLean claims that this exemption is necessary to preserve the confidentiality of MPs correspondence in relation to constituency casework. This is bullshit.

There are 24 clauses in FOIA setting out exemptions on disclosures, of which those most relevant to MacLean’s claims are:

Section 34. Exemption for parliamentary privilege.

Section 40. Exemption for information that cannot be released due to Data Protection Act 1998.

Section 41. Exemption for information provided in confidence.

Section 36. Exemption for information that, if disclosed, would be prejudicial to the effective conduct of public affairs, a neat little catch-all clause that includes cover for information that:

would, or would be likely to, inhibit-

(i) the free and frank provision of advice, or

(ii) the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, or

(c) would otherwise prejudice, or would be likely otherwise to prejudice, the effective conduct of public affairs.

All of which neatly covers pretty much anything of a legitimately confidential nature that might crop up in a MP’s constituency casework.

This, it seems, is not good enough for Labour MP Martin Salter who claims:

“Members on both sides of the House have found their correspondence to a public authority already revealed to a third party,” he said.

“This is completely unacceptable.”

If that’s the case then it rather rather odd that no MP has yet raised the matter of such disclosures with the Office of the Information Commissioner, as this FOIA request of my own clearly demonstrates:

Question.

1. What representations, if any, has David MacLean MP made to the Information Commissioner in regards to this proposed legislation [the exemption bill], prior to its introduction to the House of Commons?

2. Has Mr MacLean, or any other Member of Parliament, consulted with or sought the advice of the Information Commissioner in the matter of the application of the Freedom of Information Act to MPs correspondence with Public Authorities and, if so, what guidance has been issued to them by the Information Commissioner, particularly in regard to applicability of existing exemptions in the Act to MP’s correspondence?

Please enclose copies of any/all relevant correspondence relating to this inquiry

Response:

I can advise you that the Information Commissioner does not hold any information relating to your request. The Information Commissioner received no approach from Mr MacLean or any other Member of Parliament in relation to this matter.

Funny that, MPs are (allegedly) having their casework correspondence disclosed under FOIA on both sides of the House as yet not one of the them has raised the matter with the Information Commissioner?

Methinks there are some terminological inexactitudes in play here.

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