Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:48 am on 22nd July 2008.

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Photo of Baroness Ashton of Upholland Baroness Ashton of Upholland President of the Council, Privy Council Office, Leader of the House of Lords and Lord President of the Council (Privy Council Office) 11:48 am, 22nd July 2008

My Lords, I have worked closely with my right honourable friend the Leader of another place to ensure that proposals for another place also cover your Lordships' House. I have consulted with usual channels colleagues and with the House Committee about the introduction of this order and I am grateful for their support.

It is my strong contention that to carry out our duties in your Lordships' House properly, we have to be able to speak freely without fear or favour. We must be able to say what we believe to be true about difficult or controversial issues and we must be able to do so without feeling that we could be putting ourselves or our families at risk. Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act allows for the Act to be amended in the light of developing circumstances such as these. The section permits the Secretary of State to make an order limiting the scope of the Act's application to specific information held by a particular body. The order amends Schedule 1, which covers which bodies are subject to the Act. The order will exclude four categories of information, if held by either House or the National Assembly for Wales, from the scope of the Act. This will mean that the response to any request for information falling into these categories will be that the House does not hold such information for the purposes of the Act.

The four categories of information are, first, residential addresses of any Member. This means that information relating to any residential address held by either House, regardless of whether a claim has been made in respect of it or not, will no longer be covered by the Act. "Residential address" includes a Member's main or alternative place of residence, including any temporary accommodation such as a hotel, a holiday home or any grace-and-favour residences—that is, those that come from a job. Members will know that, unlike another place, the House of Lords authorities do not hold addresses in relation to claims for expenses except in relation to travel. However, any information the House holds on addresses will now be outside the scope of the Act.

The second category is information as to regular or forthcoming travel arrangements for any Member. "Forthcoming travel arrangements" means any travel that, at the date of a relevant freedom of information request, has not yet taken place. Disclosure of this information might endanger the Member or Members undertaking that journey. "Regular travel" covers any journey between two points using any mode of transport that happens at broadly the same time—for example, each day, week or month—knowledge of which could put a Member's personal safety at risk. Information on the amount spent by Members on regular travel during any calendar month will remain subject to the Act. However, any further breakdown of expenditure—for example by week or day—will not be, as it could enable the identification of a regular travel pattern.

The third category is information that would enable the identification of any person who has delivered goods or provided services to a Member at any residence of the Member. This provision is of more relevance to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for goods and services received in relation to homes they maintain in order to fulfil their parliamentary or constituency responsibility. This House's Members' reimbursement allowance scheme contains no analogous provision.

The fourth category is that of information relating to expenditure by a Member on security arrangements. Again, this issue is relevant to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for expenditure in relation to security arrangements at their addresses. All the provisions I have outlined also apply to the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.