The Campaign for Freedom of Information today (May 10) criticised Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, for what it said was his “totally unjustified” attack on the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas.
In the Commons today Mr Straw suggested that MPs’ correspondence on behalf of their constituents was “at risk of publication” under the Freedom of Information Act, adding that this was never anticipated and “would drive a coach and horses through the relationship that we have with constituents”.
Mr Straw continued: “It is all very well for some people to say that there are some exemptions, but the truth is that the way that some journalists and the Information Commissioner are acting means that that intention is not being met in practice”
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said that “any suggestion that the Commissioner had ordered or encouraged authorities to release correspondence which MPs have sent on behalf of individual constituents is pure fantasy. Mr Straw is undermining the authority of Information Commissioner on totally spurious grounds.”
The Campaign said the only decisions the Commissioner has made directly affecting MPs involved the release of information about their travel expenses and the names of MPs’ staff. The House of Commons had not complied with the latter decision, using its power of veto under the FOI Act to prevent staff being named.
The Campaign also criticised the Labour Party’s PLP parliamentary committee which today wrote to Labour MPs encouraging them to support David Maclean’s bill when it returns to the Commons on May 18th saying it “would protect the confidentiality of MPs correspondence on behalf of constituents”.
The Campaign said that MPs’ constituency correspondence was already protected by two exemptions in the FOI Act, one for personal information whose disclosure would breach the Data Protection Act, and the other for information whose disclosure would be a breach of confidence at common law.
Mr Frankel said “the purpose of David Maclean’s bill is to protect MPs, not constituents. By supporting this bill MPs would be saying they regard the FOI Act as an unnecessary nuisance, which they should not have to comply with. They would be sending a message of solidarity to any authority which also seeks to resist disclosure under the Act.”
Mr Straw was answering business questions in the Commons on May 10 2007. The exchange can be read at:
For more information about David Maclean’s Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill see: https://www.cfoi.org.uk/macleanbill.html
Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958