Committee concern over Freedom of Information

21 January 2009

The House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee have today drawn the House of Lords’ attention to concerns over the Draft Freedom of Information (Parliament) Order 2009

The order, which will be debated in both Houses of Parliament tomorrow, amends the provisions in the Freedom of Information Act to limit the information that would be available in relation to expenses claimed by individual Members of either House to an annual overall figure.

The Committee argue that the Government has failed to provide an explanation of why the additional measures in the Order are required over and above a previous SI rushed through in July 2008 that was intended to deal with concerns over MPs’ personal security. The Order does not clearly state what the change is intended to achieve and the Committee recommends Peers seek an explanation from Government over why the Order is necessary and what its objective is when it is debated tomorrow.

The Committee also express concerns over the way the Order has been rushed through using an accelerated timetable. This has compressed the normal scrutiny process, that the Committee was set up to undertake. The Committee state they would have wished to seek the views of the interested parties and supplementary information – just as they would for any other regulation. Their report suggests Peers should seek an explanation from Government on why the Order is being pushed through with such haste that has limited the normal scrutiny process.

Commenting Lord Filkin, Chairman of the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, said:

"While fully respecting the relationship between the two Houses, the Committee felt strongly that this House should find out why the Order has been introduced, and what the reason is for seeking to deal with it so rapidly."

"The Order to exempt Parliamentarians from provisions in the Freedom of Information Act represents a major change to the original legislation and ought to be subject to proper Parliamentary scrutiny.

"The Government has failed properly to explain the purpose of the proposed change and by scheduling it for consideration in the Lords so quickly after the proposal was announced they have not given our Committee the chance to explore the impact of the proposals properly. We scrutinise 1,100 regulations a year and this Order should be subject to the same process as any other.

"We have drawn the special attention of the House to our concerns and we hope the debates on this issue in both Houses will give Parliamentarians the opportunity to push the Government to explain their position more clearly."

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