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 David Maclean David Maclean Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Joint Committee), Chair, Statutory Instruments (Select Committee) 11:15 pm, 7th February 2007

I am grateful for the Minister’s wise remarks. She is right: we all support the success of the Freedom of Information Act, but after six years it is right to examine its impact. We have discovered that in Parliament it has potential to cause problems in the relationship between MPs and constituents. I detect unanimity in the Committee, and if we were to sit here for another two hours I do not believe that there would be any dissent from right hon. and hon. Members on either side of the Committee. We might, however, hear more telling examples of the danger of allowing people to go on fishing expeditions, to get access—through third parties and public authorities—to files that might contain letters written by Members on behalf of our constituents.

I am glad that the Minister acknowledged that there is a problem in relation to Parliament and Members’ correspondence, and that she has decided that the Government should rightly stay neutral and leave the decision to a free vote of MPs and of colleagues in another place. I am glad also that Members support the view that there should be no rowing back on the information that is currently published by the House of Commons on MPs’ allowances. I assume that, when the new communication allowance takes effect, the Members Estimate Committee and the Speaker will want to publish details of that too. We shall continue to publish every October—or thereabouts—the full  details that have been published in the past. There will be no cover-up and no secrecy.

The Bill will permit us to deal with the vexed problem of correspondence, and will ensure that there is no doubt on matters in any circumstances. I am grateful for the support of colleagues and I commend the amendment to the Committee.