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Gordon Brown and Freedom of Information

Posted by James Hammerton @ 8:59 pm on 24 May, 2007.
Categories British politics, accountability, freedom of information.
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The Telegraph reports that Gordon Brown will block the government’s attempts to water down the FoIA:

The Chancellor is ready to block plans drawn up by Lord Falconer which critics claim are designed to make it more difficult for people to obtain information from Whitehall.

I hope the Telegraph is right about this as it would be a welcome move, since Lord Falconer’s proposals would seriously weaken the FoIA.

There is also the matter of David MacLean’s Freedom of Information (Amendment Bill) that exempts Parliament from the FoIA. On this, the Telegraph reports:

Mr Brown wants to see the Private Members’ Bill, which was tabled by David Maclean, the former Conservative chief whip, rewritten to make clear that MPs will still have to publish full details of their expenses and allowances.

With David Cameron, the Conservative leader, adopting a similar position, Mr Maclean said last night that he was prepared to change his Bill to ensure that there was a statutory requirement to publish MPs’ allowances.

Whilst making the publication of MP’s expenses a statutory requirement would be a welcome move, it does not address the fundamental problem with David Maclean’s bill, which is that it would exempt Parliament from FoIA completely and thus the public would have no right to any information about Parliament’s business other than that which Parliament chooses to
release itself. Making it mandatory to publish the expenses would still leave all other information down to Parliament’s whim. And it would still exclude all MPs’ correspondence with public authorities.

The bill should either be dropped or should be amended to specifically exempt MP’s correspondence on behalf of their constituents with public authorities (the ostensible concern Maclean claimed to be addressing with his bill).

I’ll comment on David Cameron’s approach to this later.

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