MPs scrutinise bill to exempt Parliament from FOI

A committee of 18 MPs will today scrutinise a bill which would exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act.

The private member's bill, sponsored by former Tory chief whip David Maclean, would remove both Houses of Parliament from the list of public authorities that must respond to FOI requests. It would also create a new exemption to block other public authorities from releasing MPs' correspondence.

One of the issues the committee will be likely to examine is an amendment tabled by Maclean to strengthen the provisions of his bill.

As originally drafted, the new FOI exemption proposed in the bill would have been "qualified", meaning that MPs' correpondence could still be disclosed if it is in the public interest. Maclean's amendment, however, would make this an "absolute" exemption that does not need to be justified on public interest grounds.

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill passed it second reading unopposed on 19 January, just three days after the Information Tribunal ruled against the House of Commons in an FOI case, ordering Commons adminstrators to disclose a detailed breakdown of MPs' travel expenses, which had been requested by Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

Since the Freedom of Information Act came into force in 2005, the House of Commons has received 360 requests, including 167 requests concerning MPs' expenses.

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