Freedom of information: Campbell urges people to lobby their MP

Ming Campbell has today emailed party members and supporters urging them to lobby their MP about Friday’s freedom of information debate in Parliament.

In the email Ming wrote:

This Friday the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill will once again be debated on the floor of the House of Commons.

Liberal Democrat MPs at Westminster, spearheaded by Norman Baker and Simon Hughes, are working hard to stop it. You can help us by contacting your MP – via www.writetothem.com – and asking them to publicly declare their opposition to the Bill.

The proposal is a private member’s bill, introduced by David Maclean, a Conservative MP. If passed, it would exempt both Houses of Parliament and all communications between MPs and public authorities from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.

The effect would be to remove any obligation for details of MPs’ expenses to be made public. However, the expenses of other public figures and senior officials such as judges, councillors and civil servants would remain accessible under FOI legislation.

It would also mean that members of the public would not be able to find out the advice or policy opinions that their own MP had expressed to public bodies. For example, responses to public consultation exercises, representations to planning authorities and letters to NHS professionals on the provision of local health services would no longer be publicly accessible under the Freedom of Information Act.

Supporters of the amendment say that they are concerned about preventing constituents’ correspondence from being disclosed.

However, correspondence about constituents’ personal affairs which contains personal data is already exempt from the Act and also protected by the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

An unholy alliance of Conservative and Labour MPs is backing this attempt to water down public access to freedom of information. They have the clear support of the government, which, unusually, did not block the Bill at Second Reading and therefore seems happy to see its own Freedom of Information Act watered down.

This is unacceptable. Of all public servants, MPs have least right to be exempt from public scrutiny. We are elected to represent our constituents’ interests and to maintain high standards in public life.

The Freedom of Information Act is a vital tool for allowing members of the public to assess whether their MPs are doing so.

We must not allow it to be compromised.

Please contact your MP before Friday to make clear your support for the Freedom of Information Act and your wish to see David Maclean’s proposed Bill rejected for the reasons that I have mentioned. You can access your MP’s contact details at www.writetothem.com

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11 Responses to Freedom of information: Campbell urges people to lobby their MP

  1. ewan hayes says:

    Sir Ming
    Help
    I’ve just been asked by you to tell my MP ( David Heatcoot Amory ) to oppose David Maclean’s bill.
    Do you think this man will be swayed?

  2. Adam Croft says:

    I have also contacted my local MP (Andrew Selous) to ask him to oppose the Bill. However, I then found out that Mr Selous had claimed more Additional Costs Allowance than any other MP in 2004/05 – an astonishing £20,902. The same story goes for 2002/3. In 2003/4, he was the third-highest claimer, and last year alone he claimed £21,631. I would personally consider Mr Selous to be rather inactive in his constituency, so it’s no wonder they want this information to be hidden!

  3. Hywel Morgan says:

    All very well asking us to email our MPs to get them to oppose this.

    Where were you (and the other 40+ Lib Dem MPs) who didn’t turn up to speak/vote against this?

    Why did you not make this a three line whip?

  4. Letterman says:

    I agree with Hywel, what happened? Get your act together.

  5. Lib Dem member says:

    No Lib Dem MPs voted against the Bill. For a Friday (when MPs have lots of conflicting engagements), it was a high turnout of Lib Dem MPs. Ming and others have also got lots of good publicity highlighting the Labour-Tory stitch up over the Bill. Why fall into their trap – do you think they timetabled the bill at the last moment on a Friday to make it easy for Lib Dem MPs to suddenly change their plans at the last moment? You two sounds more like the cheerleaders for the other parties if you just dance to their tune and fall into their traps!

  6. Gary Jones - Lib Dem Member says:

    Lets not turn this into a slanging match. However its worth noting that the strong defence given there is worrying – its a simple question “Why did you not attend”.

    Irrespective of “Other engagements” an MP’s role, is to represent the people in the Commons – first and foremost.

    There are only a very narrow gap of “other plans” which should take precendence over voting, a state of national emergency maybe?

    I’m young, but already growing tired of inaction and passiveness, culminated in people saying “Something should be done” but doing nothing themselves.

    If it is indeed true that No Lib Dem MP’s voted against the bill, and I am here taking time out of my work to take action – then I think an explanation is in order. This is NOT acceptable.

    I wrote to a Lord regarding this, lets hope that he hasn’t planned a visit to a school on the same day as the vote!

  7. Web Team says:

    Gary – there are many other things an MP does other than represent their constituents in Parliament. For example, many MPs use Friday to meet consitutents face-to-face who want to raise issues with them. That has to be done in their constituency (imagine if an MP said – you have to travel to London to see me!).

  8. Alan Crowe says:

    “Other engagements” is not a valid excuse for not turning up to vote. After all, the 25 MPs who voted against the bill, as well as those who voted for it, managed to turn up. Let us hear the official reason/excuse from the LibDem chief whip.

  9. Gary Jones - Lib Dem Member says:

    “For example, many MPs use Friday to meet consitutents face-to-face who want to raise issues with them.”

    Thank you for your reply, I have to admit to regarding this task as equally important (you need to understand the constituents to represent them effectively).

    This is an explanation for some missing members, but a “Nil Point” turnout is still dissapointing , for a vote of this importance, which Ming has taken a stance on – at least some members of the party have to be present!

    If it is true that the opposition were unfair and dishonest with the timing of this vote – maybe we can rota MP’s “engagements” so that at any given day we have at least some representation?

    (n.b I appreciate the feedback on this page and read without prejudice – but will stop posting as I don’t want to detract any further from the actual issue of the FOIA).

  10. Graeme says:

    There wasn’t a “nil point” turnout on Friday – around 16 (I think) LibDem MPs voted against the bill! Even if all of them had turned out, they wouldn’t have defeated it.

    As I said on LibDem Voice, my understanding is that the MPs were hoping to talk out the bill, but the Tories and Labour ganged up to force a closure motion.

  11. Hywel Morgan says:

    “Gary – there are many other things an MP does other than represent their constituents in Parliament. For example, many MPs use Friday to meet consitutents face-to-face who want to raise issues with them. That has to be done in their constituency (imagine if an MP said – you have to travel to London to see me!).”

    I accept there may be commitments MPs had in their constituencys and votes on Friday’s are pretty rare. But it is also pretty rare for the Party Leader to appear on the today program calling for opposition to a private members bill. In that context I don’t believe it was reasonable that 75% of Lib Dem MPs had such an unbreakable commitment.

    I’ve had to cancel events in the past because an MP had to be in Westminster for a vote so it’s not unprecedented.

    It was known that this bill was coming back on Tuesday at the latest so although notice was short it wasn’t incredibly short. Saying to a constituent “Can I reschedule our meeting as I need to vote against proposals to stop people knowing what MPs are doing” isn’t the worst reason you could ever give someone!

    Given that Ming emailed members and appeared on the Today program about this asking “why weren’t you there?” isn’t the most unreasonable question.

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