Recently in House of Lords Category

The Government has now, belatedly, published a response to the Petition on the Prime Minister's website, about the sneaky attempt to exclude Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, back last may and June 2007.

This e-petition attracted 818 signatures.

For the benefit of any future historians, this seemingly reasonable Government response and explanation of current Freedom of Information Act policy, is ,of course, highly misleading.

What actually happened was that the Labour Government , colluded with Opposition MPs to try to sneak this Private Member's Bill through, not once, but twice, but the public furore expressed in the mainstream media, and online, seems to have forced them to beat a tactical retreat.

Subsequent revelations about MP's abuse of their laxly controlled expenses and allowances have been widely publicised, involving the Conservative Derek Conway and the supposedly neutral, but obviously partisan Labour Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, both regarding his own domestic expense claims, and his attempts to appeal against, and to obstruct, the decisions of the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal, stemming from Heather Brooks' and The Guardian newspaper's legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests regarding MPs' expenses.

Another effect of this Bill, had it passed, would have been the exclusion of other legitimate FOIA requests to the Houses of Parliament, which have nothing to do with MPs' expenses, such as our requests about the Designation of the formerly public access areas like Central Lobby or the Committee Rooms, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 128 Designated (or Protected) Sites, and what we anticipate will be a flurry of requests, regarding the latest delayed, over budget, improperly specified etc. building project at the Palace of Westminster, the new Visitors Building and external Ramp, which seems to be a re-run of the Millennium Bridge affair, and cannot safely take the weight of a queue of visitors.

Foiparliament - epetition reply

28 April 2008

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to oppose the Private Members Bill exempting Westminster from the FoI Act 2000."

Details of Petition:

"The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, from David Maclean MP (a member of the House of Commons Commission, which runs the House of Commons) plans to exempt the UK Parliament entirely from its own FoI Act. It seems to have informal support from some Ministers, and has passed its early stages with virtually no discussion or opposition. FoI would still apply to all the devolved parliaments/assemblies; what is so different about Westminster? Is it because MPs dont like us knowing about their expenses or other activities in detail? Westminster operates on our behalf and should remain fully accountable to us, just as it expects other public bodies to be accountable to it and to us."

Read the Government's response

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill would have had two effects: to remove the Houses of Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and to create a new exemption to cover MPs' correspondence. This was a Private Members' Bill; it was not introduced by the Government.

The decision of the House of Lords was that the Bill should not progress any further and it fell at the end of the last Parliamentary session.

MPs' correspondence held by public authorities will continue to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government recognises the concerns raised by MPs during the debate on the Bill, however The Information Commissioner has published guidance for those dealing with Freedom of Information requests for MPs' correspondence. It sets out the main exemptions that may apply to such information and reminds public authorities of their duty to consult with third parties when considering the release of information relating to them. Among other things, this is to ensure that personal information about constituents is not disclosed in a way that would breach their rights under the Data Protection Act.

In the Green Paper, 'The Governance of Britain', the Government reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of information and stated clearly that it is right that Parliament should be included within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Information held by the Houses of Parliament - including about MPs' interests - therefore remains within the Act's scope.

The House of Lords has disclosed, as per our FOIA request, a couple of Home Office documents which give a glimpse about the chronology of the meetings and decisions which led to the Designation of the Place of Westminster and Portcullis House (and Downing Street, Buckingham Palace, MI5, MI6, GCHQ, MOD etc. buildings) under the Serious organised Crime and Police Act 2005.

The emphasis on displaying adequate warning signs around the perimeters of Designated Sites, some of which which are now called Protected Sites (after the amendment brought in by Section 12 of the Terrorism Act 2006) is interesting - the Home Office civil servants fear that the legislation will "be brought into disrepute by a failed prosecution", based on the statutory defence under "section 128(4) if a person can prove that he did not know and had no reasonable cause to suspect the site in relation to which the offence is alleged to have been committed was a designated site".

This is currently very topical, since the first people, Obadiah Marius and Victoria Smith have now been arrested and charged under this Section 128, for apparently wandering into Downing Street via the unmarked 70 Whitehall entrance to the Cabinet Office.

Warning signs suitable for the perimeter fence of a nuclear power station on an isolated site, are not adequate for public buildings or otherwise unmarked official office buildings in the centre of London, an area with with millions of foreign tourists who may not read English well or at all. There are also many British people who cannot read or see such signs either.

The House of Lords disclosure consists of 4 photocopied items:

    Letter from the House of Lords Freedom of Information Officer.

    The FOIA disclosure was made via post which arrived on Tuesday 12th June 2007, exactly 20 working days (allowing for the May Public Holiday).

  1. March 2007 Letter from a senior Home Office civil servant to the Parliamentary Security Co-Ordinator

    "I know the policy is not a welcome one but it is one to which the Government has committed us and it will be difficult for us all if it is called into disrepute"

  2. March 2007 Email to Parliamentary Estates Division from the Policy Team Leader at the Home Office Central Unit, which concisely lays out the chronology of the meetings and decisions and the importance of adequate signage.

  3. July 2006 Appendix giving general policy advice about signs and section 128 - presumably this was sent to all the other Designated sites as well.

  4. The House of Lords wording used on their temporary / freestanding signs by their entrances to the House of Lords e.g. the Monarch's entrance.

We have censored some names, addresses, individual email addresses and direct telephone extensions in the transcriptions below:


As an example of the sort of Freedom of Information Act requests which have nothing to do with MPs' expenses, but which would also be banned by David Maclean's Private Member's Bill which is rearing its ugly head again next Friday 19th May, the notorious Freedom of Information Act (Amendment) Bill, we have asked the House of Commons and the House of Lords about the Designation of the Public Areas of the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 128.

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About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

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WhatDoTheyKnow.com

WhatDoTheyKnow.com - FOIA request submission and publication website from MySociety.org

Campaign Button Links

Watching Them, Watching Us - UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID Campaign - cross party opposition to the NuLabour Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.
Gary McKinnon is facing extradition to the USA under the controversial Extradition Act 2003, without any prima facie evidence or charges brought against him in a UK court. Try him here in the UK, under UK law.

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FreeFarid.com - Kafkaesque extradition of Farid Hilali under the European Arrest Warrant to Spain

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond
Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans
Data Retention is No Solution - Petition to the European Commission and European Parliament against their vague Data Retention plans.

Save Parliament: Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)
Save Parliament - Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill (and other issues)

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Open Rights Group

The Big Opt Out Campaign - opt out of having your NHS Care Record medical records and personal details stored insecurely on a massive national centralised database.

Tor - the onion routing network
Tor - the onion routing network - "Tor aims to defend against traffic analysis, a form of network surveillance that threatens personal anonymity and privacy, confidential business activities and relationships, and state security. Communications are bounced around a distributed network of servers called onion routers, protecting you from websites that build profiles of your interests, local eavesdroppers that read your data or learn what sites you visit, and even the onion routers themselves."

Tor - the onion routing network
Anonymous Blogging with Wordpress and Tor - useful Guide published by Global Voices Advocacy with step by step software configuration screenshots (updated March 10th 2009).

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Amnesty International's irrepressible.info campaign

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BlogSafer - wiki with multilingual guides to anonymous blogging

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NGO in a box - Security Edition privacy and security software tools

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Home Office Watch blog, "a single repository of all the shambolic errors and mistakes made by the British Home Office compiled from Parliamentary Questions, news reports, and tip-offs by the Liberal Democrat Home Affairs team." - does this apply to the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government as well ?

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Reporters Without Borders - Reporters Sans Frontières - campaign for journalists 'and bloggers' freedom in repressive countries and war zones.

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Committee to Protect Bloggers - "devoted to the protection of bloggers worldwide with a focus on highlighting the plight of bloggers threatened and imprisoned by their government."

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Icelanders are NOT terrorists ! - despite Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling's use of anti-terrorism legislation to seize the assets of Icelandic banks.

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No CCTV - The Campaign Against CCTV

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I'm a Photographer Not a Terrorist !

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Power 2010 cross party, political reform campaign

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Cracking the Black Box - "aims to expose technology that is being used in inappropriate ways. We hope to bring together the insights of experts and whistleblowers to shine a light into the dark recesses of systems that are responsible for causing many of the privacy problems faced by millions of people."

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Open Rights Group - Petition against the renewal of the Interception Modernisation Programme

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests

foi.mysociety.org - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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