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 Lord Clark of Windermere Lord Clark of Windermere Labour 11:48 am, 22nd July 2008

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear me say that I keep a paternal eye on orders that affect the Freedom of Information Act, and that I try to assess the effect of any orders on the original Act. I remind the House that the whole purpose of the Act is to empower the citizen to challenge the apparatus of the state, particularly that of the Executive, and to extend their own freedom.

As regards an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I should point out that when we drew up the first semblances of the Act in the original Bill, we excluded Parliament. We felt that if Parliament were included it would be so easy for the press to have a go at MPs and Members of this House and neglect where the real power lies in Great Britain; namely, in the Executive. That is exactly what has happened. I am not saying that it was wrong to include it, but that was the judgment that we made at the time.

The security of Members of this House and the other place is paramount. We should not forget that only 25 years ago, or even less, we all went through a heavy security curtain. I clearly remember the days when the police gave briefings on security for our constituency homes. We also had to search underneath our cars every time we went out in them. We forget those things now but they were very real at the time. We all hope that those days never come again, but it would be foolish to forget them.

My last point is very important. The families of Members in both Houses of Parliament usually make a great sacrifice so that we can be here to try to serve the nation. Particularly in the other House, where Members may traditionally have had younger families, there is real pressure, real fear and real tension. Members from provincial seats come down to London on a Sunday night or Monday morning and return on a Thursday or Friday, but their families are left up there, often on their own. I can well recall my wife being frightened—I would almost say to death—during a period in the 1980s when, literally at 4 am, there was a braying at the door. She went to the upstairs window, and a policeman was outside saying, "Under no account must you open any parcel that might be delivered to your house". Of course that was a helpful intervention—the police were delivering a warning—but you can imagine the fear of a woman living on her own with a young family in that situation.

It is therefore right and proper to insist that a certain amount of privacy should be given to Members of Parliament of both Houses. This order is a correct procedure and I welcome it as a step in the right direction.