MP vows to lead revolt against Parliament secrecy bill

An MP has pledged to lead a Commons revolt over a controversial attempt to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.

A private members bill, introduced by former Tory chief
whip David Maclean, would, if it becomes law, prevent journalists and
others from using FoI requests to obtain information contained in
MPs' correspondence with government departments and other public bodies.

But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, has
vowed to oppose the bill when it comes before the Commons for its
crucial Report Stage and Third Reading on 20 April.

Maclean's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill has already been given an unopposed Second Reading and has been approved by 19-member committee drawn from MPs in all parties.

Opponents can attempt to block Private Members Bills at the Report Stage using filibustering tactics. To prevent Baker and other critics from talking out the two-clause bill, Maclean may be forced to muster 100 MPs in order to force a closure vote and secure the Commons' approval to be sent to the House of Lords.

Maclean has been impressed by the amount of support he has secured. Among the MPs who spoke up for the Bill in committee were Labour MPs George Howarth (Knowsley North and Sefton) Kevan Jones, (North Durham) and Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East).

Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey (North Devon) also raised no objection.

Harvey, chairman of the House of Commons Commission, told MPs: "Requests under the FoI Act are becoming increasingly intrusive, particularly on issues such as t he additional costs allowance. In that respect, they are getting into very personal realms – they are going behind the front door into Members' homes."

While the Government insists the Bill must be decided on a free vote, Tony Wright, Labour chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, has accused the whips of collaborating to ensure the Bill gets approved.

Constitutional Affairs minister Bridget Prentice has also indicated where her own sympathies lie.

"We should not allow the 2000 Act to disrupt the vital relationship between and MP and his or her constituents, and the time has come to address the issue," she told MPs.

Baker told Press Gazette: "The Government is backtracking on the FoI Act.

"This is a throw back to the 1950s when Parliament was a private members' club.

"If this is passed we will have the absurd position of exempting from the legislation those people who passed the law."

Baker recently won a case before the Information Tribunal which forced the disclosure of more details of MPs' travel expenses.

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