Clause 1

Part of Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 pm on 7th February 2007.

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Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Chair, Culture, Media and Sport Committee 11:15 pm, 7th February 2007

I shall be brief, because I do not want to repeat the arguments that hon. Members have made. First, let me place on the record my thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Penrith and The Border for introducing the Bill, which is important. Much attention is given to our work in Parliament, but the work that we do in our constituencies, although it is not given the same attention, is just as important and it is based on trust.

My right hon. Friend talked about the trust between an MP and his constituent, but the trust between MPs and the authorities with which we deal is also vital. When I write to my local health service, the police and  the local authority, I am frank in my exchanges. I am aware that I am putting one side of the story and that I have not necessarily heard the other side. I expect people to be able to reply to me with equal frankness. If I am to do my job properly, people need to have confidence and trust that they can set out the true position to me. If people think that information might be made public, they will not be able to respond inthat way.

It is difficult to give specific examples, but I will give one in general terms. I was approached by the close relatives of the victims of a particularly notorious multiple murder that occurred in my constituency. The perpetrator is serving a life sentence—I expect that he will never be released. However, he remains active and has approached me on several occasions, as have the victims’ relatives.

The victims’ relatives expressed to me their distress at some of the things that the perpetrator was continuing to do. I have contacted the police, Prison Service and Home Office on their behalf. I received a freedom of information request from the perpetrator, and I was able to tell him that MPs were not covered by the Freedom of Information Act. Had I been obliged to divulge that information, even greater distress could have been caused to my constituents. If there is any element of doubt—I think that the debate has indicated that there is—about whether an MP’s correspondence is exempt, it must be clarified. That is the reason why I think that the Bill is tremendously important.