What have our MPs got to hide?

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 was, at least in principle, a good piece of legislation. It is not perfect and as far as I'm concern had too many ambiguities and exemptions. But all in all it made for a far more open government and public sector. Unfortunately, it seems it has been too successful and there has been for some time a growing force within Parliament to make MPs exempt from the law. This is, as far as I'm concerned, the most open and obvious show of contempt for the electorate I have seen for a long time. What makes them so special that they feel they above the law? The Private Members' Bill supporting MP exemption is being led by Tory MP, David Maclean and it seems is now gaining cross-house support. The Government is refusing to say whether it backs the Bill (i.e. it does, no doubt) and even cabinet member Jack Straw has given implicit support for it. This exemption must not happen - MPs are already protected enough, in fact more than they should be. The reason for wanting more "protection" is that these self-less bastions of society do want to compromise their relationship with their constituents by having their correspondence published under FIO. Do not believe this propaganda - they are already protected by the Data Protection Act. This is all about being exposed as taking advantage of their position and not wanting the scrutiny they should be put under as public servants. What have our MPs got to hide?



There's a good article from the BBC FoI correspondent here. This is a fairly technical issue, in terms of what information would still be available and what would be restricted under the terms of this Bill. He summarises it as:

"The practical effects of the Bill would be (a) to keep secret all correspondence between MPs and public authorities (letters about the personal circumstances of constituents are already protected from disclosure under the Data Protection Act), and (b) to stop further details being released of how MPs spend their allowances."

I heard a LibDem MP on Radio 5Live saying that they opposed the Bill as it stood, but could support a more restricted Bill that delivered (a) if (b) were taken out (i.e. information about expenses were not protected). The Tory MP interviewed at the same time argued that it was necessary to protect (a), because the Government was starting to use the FoI Act to find out what opposition MPs were looking into, and to queer their pitch accordingly.

It's a trickier subject than it at first appears, but on the whole, I share your scepticism about their intentions. Removing the provisions with regard to expenses would go a long way to reducing that scepticism.

(b) is totally unacceptable, I think most would agree. I also don't buy the excuse from the Tory MP who claimed that we need the exemption on FOI because the government were, effectively, ruining his agruments.  Tough!  It's a two way street and if that's the best argument he can come up with, then our opposition is really worse at its job than I thought. I'm not even certain as to why MPs' letters to public authorities need to be secret...

I don't want to put myself in the position of defending these guys, but I think they would say that it can be harder to persuade someone in (say) the NHS to speak to them about faults in the system if the Government can easily trace the comments back to their originator. It's a tricky balance. Though I am inclined to agree with your hard line, I am not 100% convinced that it isn't prudent to allow at least opposition MPs some scope to carry out private investigations.