April 2008 Archives

The Government has now, belatedly, published a response to the Petition on the Prime Minister's website, about the sneaky attempt to exclude Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, back last may and June 2007.

This e-petition attracted 818 signatures.

For the benefit of any future historians, this seemingly reasonable Government response and explanation of current Freedom of Information Act policy, is ,of course, highly misleading.

What actually happened was that the Labour Government , colluded with Opposition MPs to try to sneak this Private Member's Bill through, not once, but twice, but the public furore expressed in the mainstream media, and online, seems to have forced them to beat a tactical retreat.

Subsequent revelations about MP's abuse of their laxly controlled expenses and allowances have been widely publicised, involving the Conservative Derek Conway and the supposedly neutral, but obviously partisan Labour Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, both regarding his own domestic expense claims, and his attempts to appeal against, and to obstruct, the decisions of the Information Commissioner and the Information Tribunal, stemming from Heather Brooks' and The Guardian newspaper's legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests regarding MPs' expenses.

Another effect of this Bill, had it passed, would have been the exclusion of other legitimate FOIA requests to the Houses of Parliament, which have nothing to do with MPs' expenses, such as our requests about the Designation of the formerly public access areas like Central Lobby or the Committee Rooms, under the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 section 128 Designated (or Protected) Sites, and what we anticipate will be a flurry of requests, regarding the latest delayed, over budget, improperly specified etc. building project at the Palace of Westminster, the new Visitors Building and external Ramp, which seems to be a re-run of the Millennium Bridge affair, and cannot safely take the weight of a queue of visitors.

Foiparliament - epetition reply

28 April 2008

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to oppose the Private Members Bill exempting Westminster from the FoI Act 2000."

Details of Petition:

"The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, from David Maclean MP (a member of the House of Commons Commission, which runs the House of Commons) plans to exempt the UK Parliament entirely from its own FoI Act. It seems to have informal support from some Ministers, and has passed its early stages with virtually no discussion or opposition. FoI would still apply to all the devolved parliaments/assemblies; what is so different about Westminster? Is it because MPs dont like us knowing about their expenses or other activities in detail? Westminster operates on our behalf and should remain fully accountable to us, just as it expects other public bodies to be accountable to it and to us."

Read the Government's response

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill would have had two effects: to remove the Houses of Parliament from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act and to create a new exemption to cover MPs' correspondence. This was a Private Members' Bill; it was not introduced by the Government.

The decision of the House of Lords was that the Bill should not progress any further and it fell at the end of the last Parliamentary session.

MPs' correspondence held by public authorities will continue to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. The Government recognises the concerns raised by MPs during the debate on the Bill, however The Information Commissioner has published guidance for those dealing with Freedom of Information requests for MPs' correspondence. It sets out the main exemptions that may apply to such information and reminds public authorities of their duty to consult with third parties when considering the release of information relating to them. Among other things, this is to ensure that personal information about constituents is not disclosed in a way that would breach their rights under the Data Protection Act.

In the Green Paper, 'The Governance of Britain', the Government reaffirmed its commitment to freedom of information and stated clearly that it is right that Parliament should be included within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Information held by the Houses of Parliament - including about MPs' interests - therefore remains within the Act's scope.

Bad news for Transparency, Open Government,and Freedom of Information - the OGC has won their appeal in the High Court against the Information Tribunal, over the disclosure of the early Gateway Reviews of the Home Office's Identity Cards Programme.

Having decided that Parliamentary Privilege was engaged, because the Information Tribunal had made a reference to a House of Commons Select Committee Report, referring to the desirability of publishing OGC Gateway Reviews, Mr. Justice Stanley Burnton then actually rejected all the other OGC grounds for appeal.

There was a supplementary judgment about releasing or censoring the the Names of the Civil Servants involved in the Gateway Reviews, which he found against the Information tribunal, but which was irrelevant, once he decided to uphold the OG and the Speaker of the Commons appeal on the first point.

Neutral Citation Number: [2008] EWHC 737 (Admin)
Case Nos: CO/5491/2007 CO/4438/2007


Royal Courts of Justice
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL

B e f o r e :

- and -

- and -




Jonathan Swift (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Appellant
Timothy Pitt-Payne (instructed by the Office of the Information Commissioner) for the Respondent
Martin Chamberlain (instructed by the Treasury Solicitor) for the Intervener
Hearing dates: 3, 4, 5 March 2008

Buried deep within this Judgment is:

Conclusion on the first decision

103 For the reasons given above, the first decision will be quashed and the appeal from the decisions of the Commissioner remitted. My provisional view is that the appeal will have to be heard by a differently constituted Tribunal, since the decision will have to be heard and determined afresh.

The second decision

104 My conclusion on the first decision means that the second decision must fall away, and it too must be quashed. However, since the appeal against it was fully argued before me, and raises an important issue as to the practice of the Tribunal, I propose to address it.

Presumably, there will now be another 4 day hearing with barristers and QCs, going over the same grounds, yest again, at public expense, when a different panel of the Information Tribunal hears the case again.

This second Information Tribunal will probably take another year and then there will be yet another High Court appeal against that, taking another year after that - this is not proper Justice.


113 The controversy concerning identity cards, and the OGC's objections to disclosure of the gateway reviews relating to the programme, may have led to speculation that they include undisclosed information that could be regarded as damaging to the programme. If there were a "smoking gun" in the reviews, the case for disclosure would, on one view, be considerably strengthened. I have read both reviews. There is, in my view, no "smoking gun". So far as the first gateway review is concerned, this is not surprising, given that it led to the government's decision to introduce the Identity Cards Bill, a step which would have been irrational if the review had concluded that the programme was impracticable.

Given the lack of detail and the "back of a fag packet" nature of the Government's plans, even today, years after these initial reports were produced, the "smoking gun" was never likely to be a bold statement that the planned scheme was unworkable. It is far more likely that it is the absence of important factors and risks which are not mentioned in these Gateway Reviews, which are critical. e.g. a gross underestimate of the false positive and false negative rates of the biometric technology, or the lack of detailed consideration and costings for the necessary secure network infrastructure in non-Home Office Government Departments and in the private sector.

It is utterly despicable that Article 9 of the Bill of Rights 1689, which is supposed to protect freedom of speech in Parliament, has, instead, been abused to suppress the disclosure of the early Office of Government Commerce Gateway Reviews of Home Office Identity Cards Programme, requested under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

What use is the whole system of Parliamentary Select Committees, if their publicly published Reports cannot be made use of in this way ? They might as well all be scrapped.

The politicians and civil servants are making fools of themselves over this whole national centralised biometric database scheme, and in their wasteful attempts to keep their failings secret, by delaying and denying Freedom of Information rights.

Despite what seem to be compelling arguments in favour of the publication of the geographical locations and the durations of the Terrorism Act 2000 section 44 stop and search without reasonable cause powers, which are not general Police powers, but which are meant to be strictly limited, the home Office has , after an Internal review, yet again rejected our FOIA request for disclosure.

Read the transcript of the snail mail letter:

About this blog

This United Kingdom based blog has been spawned from Spy Blog, and is meant to provide a place to track our Freedom of Information Act 2000 requests to United Kingdom Government and other Public Authorities.

If you have suggestions for other FOIA requests,  bearing in mind the large list of exemptions, then email them to us, or use the comments facility on this blog, and we will see  what we can do, without you yourself having to come under the direct scrutiny of  "Sir Humphrey Appleby" or his minions.

Email Contact

Please feel free to email us your views about this website or news about the issues it tries to comment on:

email: blog @spy[dot]org[dot]uk

Here is our PGP public encryption key or download it via a PGP Keyserver.


WhatDoTheyKnow.com - FOIA request submission and publication website from MySociety.org

Campaign Buttons

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card
NO2ID - opposition to the Home Office's Compulsory Biometric ID Card and National Identity Register centralised database.

Watching Them, Watching Us, UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign
UK Public CCTV Surveillance Regulation Campaign

Peaceful resistance to the curtailment of our rights to Free Assembly and Free Speech in the SOCPA Designated Area around Parliament Square and beyond

Parliament Protest blog - resistance to the Designated Area restricting peaceful demonstrations or lobbying in the vicinity of Parliament.

Amnesty International 's irrepressible.info campaign

Yes, Minister

Yes, Minister Series 1, Episode 1, "Open Government" First airtime BBC: 25 February 1980

"Bernard Woolley: "Well, yes, Sir...I mean, it [open government] is the Minister's policy after all."
Sir Arnold: "My dear boy, it is a contradiction in terms: you can be open or you can have government."

FOIA Links

Campaign for the Freedom of Information

Office of the Information Commissioner,
who is meant to regulate the Freedom of Information Act 2000 in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Scottish Information Commissioner,
who similarly regulates the Freedom of Information Act (Scotland) 2002

Information Tribunal - deals with appeals against decisions by the Information Commissioners.

Freedom of Information pages - Department for Constitutional Affairs

Friends of the Earth FOIA Request Generator and links to contact details for Central Government Departments and their Publication Schemes

UK Government Information Asset Register - in theory, this should point you to the correct Government documents, but in practice...well see for yourself.

Access all Information is also logging some FOIA requests

foi.mysociety.org - prototype FOIA request submission, tracking and publication website

Blog Links

Spy Blog

UK Freedom of Information Act Blog - started by Steve Wood, now handed over to Katherine Gundersen

Your Right To Know - Heather Brooke

Informaticopia - Rod Ward

Open Secrets - a blog about freedom of information by BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum

Panopticon blog - by Timothy Pitt-Payne and Anya Proops. Timothy Pitt-Payne is probably the leading legal expert on the UK's Freedom of Information Act law, often appearing on behlaf of the Information Commissioner's Office at the Information Tribunal.

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