Clause 1 — Exemption of House of Commons and House of Lords
Orders of the Day
Norman Baker (Lewes, Liberal Democrat)
That is true, and it brings me to my next point, on correspondence between Members of Parliament and public bodies. I do not think we should have the right to make libellous or slanderous comments about individuals. It is entirely proper to pass on concerns to, for instance, the police or a law enforcement agency about certain information that has been received and needs to be checked out; but it is a very serious matter for a Member of Parliament to make allegations about an individual in a letter to a public body, and I do not think we should be able to do that in a cavalier fashion. We would be able to do that if we were exempted from the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act. I personally do not have a problem about letters that I send to public authorities being made public. They are accountable. They use public money. They are listed in the Freedom of Information Act as public bodies that are subject to the Act. I am elected, as we all are in the House, to represent the public. We spend public money. We are publicly accountable, so the idea that there should be some problem with correspondence from a public MP to a public authority being released seems to be difficult to sustain.
There may be occasions when there is sensitive information that needs to be conveyed from one to the other. If that is the case, I believe that that is already covered by the exemptions in the Data Protection Act which relate to health and social work, mental health conditions or other matters of that nature. It is possible to pass on information without libelling or slandering someone. If we are going to exempt MPs from having correspondence scrutinised, the danger is that we will all become loose in our language about individuals who are our constituents. That would be entirely improper.