We were disappointed that last Friday's debate on the Commons Report stage of the Private Member's Bill, the Freedom of Information(Amendment) Bill did not result in a resounding vote of rejection by MPs.
This Bill would, very controversially, exempt the House of Commons and the House of Lords entirely from the Freedom of Information Act 2000, allegedly so as to protect the personal details of MP's constituency correspondents, who are, as the sponsor of the Bill the Conservative Rt. Hon. David Maclean MP (Penrith and The Border) has admitted, already exempted from the Freedom of Information Act.
It does not appear that this is the real reason for the Bill, which, if passed would prevent further FOIA requests for MPs detailed travel expenses etc. such as are routinely published by the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, the Northern Ireland Assembly, Local Councils and even the European Parliament.
Leaving aside the question of expenses, it would also prevent any request for information about future Parliamentary financial and project planning disasters which seem to happen every time that MPs are allowed to spend public money on the Parliamentary buildings at the Palace of Westminster itself e.g. the £1.2 million per MP spent on the Portcullis House office block or the several millions of pounds wasted on the "security screen" which further isolates MPs in the Commons Chamber from the public, which utterly failed to prevent the "purple flour" incident.
The Bill seemed to run out of Parliamentary time, after 5 hours of opposition from a handful of MPs from across the party divides, and it seemed that it was dead.
However, a junior NuLabour Government Minister, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs Bridget Prentice (MP for Lewisham East) led many Government Ministers through the lobbies to vote against the Amendments which did come to a vote, thereby signalling some level of Government support for this Bill, whilst at the same time claiming it was being neutral.
Labour Government necromancers seem to have managed to revive this "evil living dead zombie" Bill, by giving it another chance to be debated and passed to the Lords, this coming Friday 27th April 2007.
Suspiciously, some has decided that, incredibly, there are no other Private Member's Bills ready for debate on Friday, and that this Bill will go to the top of the list and be debated again.
According to the Forthcoming Business of the House of Commons:
Friday 27 April
The House will sit at 9.30am
Private Members Bills – Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill - David Maclean (Rep); Electric Shock Training Devices Bill – Sarah McCarthy-Fry (2R); Health and Safety (Offences) Bill – Mr Wayne David (2R); Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill [HL] - Mr Martin Caton (2R); Housing Association (Rights and Representation of Residents) Bill – Emily Thornberry (2R); Streetscape and Highways Design Bill – Mr Alan Duncan (2R); Pedlars (Street Trading Regulation) Bill – Dr Brian Iddon (2R)
Adjournment – Foreign and Commonwealth Office involvement with BA Flight 149 to Kuwait on 2 August 1990 - Norman Baker
Nobody can recall an example of where a "talked out" Private Member's Bill has sneaked back like this, within living memory.
If David Maclean has any honour, he will withdraw his Bill.
If this Bill is passed on Friday, then the reputation of the House of Commons specifically will have been brought into further disrepute in the minds of the public. It has has already suffered in recent months with the pay rises which they have voted themselves, the
There is also the arbitrary criminalisation of members of the public in what used to be public areas, by Designating the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 Section 128, just like military bases and nuclear facilities - what excuse can there be to do this to the public areas like the Public Gallery, Central Lobby or the Committee Rooms ?