'Sabotage' ensures bid to exempt MPs from FoI is thrown out

A handful of MPs have sabotaged an attempt to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.

Former Tory Whip David Maclean held up the white flag after the critics staged a parliamentary filibuster in the Commons.

The outcome was that his two-clause Freedom of Information (amendment) Bill had failed to secure passage and is now adjourned until next Friday.

Maclean afterwards acknowledged that the bill was as good as dead.

He said: "They have sabotaged the bill, they have wrecked it, they have talked it out – that is a legitimate thing to do. I think they are wrong, but I cannot condemn the strategy that I have used myself."

The bill was introduced to safeguard MPs' constitutency correspondence from being disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. While the Government remained neutral, Constitutional Affairs Minister Bridget Prentice acknowledged there was an issue to be addressed.

The opponents only amounted to a handful of MPS who remained behind on a Friday, when most of their colleagues are away, to block the bill. They included Lib Dem MPs Norman Baker and Simon Hughes, Tory MP Richard Shepherd and Labour MP David Winnick who spoke in opposition.

Afterwards, Hughes said: "If there is an issue it should be addressed across the parties."

Maclean said: "I still think there is a genuine problem and I think that parliament sooner rather than later will address it."

To the alarm of critics the debate revealed widespread backing for Maclean. Hughes proposed an amendment to ensure that MPs expenses would continue to be made public by law, rather than at present at the discretion of parliament.

But the amendment was defeated by 46 votes to 6.

That led Hughes to accuse the Tories, who had followed ministers into the Lobbies, of coming out in favour of Maclean's bill.

The Speaker assured MPs that regardless of the fate of the bill, MPs' expenses would continue to be made public as in the past.

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