MP FoI exemption bill struggles to find Lords sponsor

A controversial attempt to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act faces possible collapse today due to lack of support in the House of Lords.

Tory MP David Maclean has until the end of today’s proceedings to find a peer willing to sponsor his Private Members’ Bill in the upper chamber.

Opponents of the measure said that if no one comes forward by then, the Bill will effectively die due to lack of parliamentary time.

The Public Bill Office in the Lords confirmed last night that it still had not been notified of a sponsor for the Bill, which would exempt Parliament from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

Maclean, a former Tory chief whip, has previously acknowledged that many peers were reluctant to back the measure after the furious outcry which erupted after it was passed in the Commons.

Under parliamentary rules, a sponsor must come forward within 12 sitting days of the Bill being introduced in the Lords if it is to proceed. That period expires today.

The measure could, in theory, be revived after that, but a sponsor would have to give eight days notice of his or her intention to back the measure.

But with the summer recess approaching, opponents in the Lords said that it would simply run out of parliamentary time.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord McNally – part of a cross-party alliance in the Lords determined to defeat the measure – said that he hoped the Bill would now be left to die.

“I think it would be better for the reputation of both Houses if this bill died an orphan,” he said.

“You don’t change a major piece of legislation like this by the backdoor on a Friday afternoon.”

Lord McNally said that if no sponsor came forward, the Government would have to make “extraordinary arrangements” to keep it alive in the Lords.

He predicted that even if the Bill did come to a vote in the upper chamber it would be roundly defeated.

Although the Government is officially neutral on the Bill, opponents suspect that it has been tacitly helping the measure.

The Tory frontbench was also thought to be sympathetic, although David Cameron has said the Conservatives would not support it in its present form if it came to a vote in the Lords.

Supporters argue that it is necessary to protect the confidentiality of constituents who contact their MPs for help.

But Ministry of Justice junior minister Baroness Ashton told Peers last week hat the Government had received no indication of improper disclosure of MPs’ constituents’ correspondence. Maclean claims that the bill is needed to prevent disclosure.

She said in a reply to Lib Dem peer Lord Lester: “The Government has not received notification of any improper disclosure of personal or confidential information communicated to public authorities by MPs in their capacity as such.”

Opponents of Mr Maclean’s Bill say that MPs’ letters are already covered by the Data Protection Act and that the Bill is far too widely drawn.

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