MPs push to limit freedom of information

Both the National Union of Journalists and the International Press Institute have voiced concern over the changes, which centre on protecting MPs from the reach of the act.

Under the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, all forms of correspondence between a member of Parliament and a public body would be exempt.

The proposal comes hot on the heels of a 12-week consultation period on further reform, which focuses on reducing the volume of requests by including a flat fee and aggregating serial requests.

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the NUJ, said it is “very worrying” that MPs have voted to pass legislation that would inhibit the improvement in our society’s openness.

“The act has been enormously useful to journalists wanting to dig deeper into the institutions running our democracy and has helped them reveal uncomfortable truths which the public has a right to know about,” he said.

“Now we are seeing a backlash from the powers that be, who have found the reach of the act has shone light into areas they would prefer to remain in the dark.”

The director of the International Press Institute, Johann Fritz, has also spoken out against the attempt to stifle the act.

He said: "I [also] find it difficult to believe that the work of MPs and others will be jeopardised by the Freedom of Information Act. There is already adequate protection under the Data Protection Act for citizens and it is more than likely that any media interest in such correspondence will occur after any need for privacy has passed."

"I am also uncomfortable with the fact that a Bill substantially benefiting MPs is being decided by MPs. In such situations, there should be greater emphasis on the views of outside experts during a full and proper consultation period."

The bill is a Private Member’s Bill sponsored by David Mclean, MP for Penrith and the Border, and it reached the Commons Committee after a second reading in the House of Commons on 19 January. The bill will now go to the report stage.

Mclean drafted the bill in response to complaints from MPs that the disclosure of their correspondence would breach confidentiality and inhibit representation of their constituents.

In a statement, the union reflected: “It is the sort of move they would condemn abroad and yet are happy to contemplate making at home. This must not be allowed to happen.”

Journalists are invited to voice their concern over the dumbing down of the act by signing a petition against reform, which can be found on Press Gazette’s website.

 

12th February 2007

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