Policy #996: "Transparency of Parliament"

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Keep disclosure for MPs' expenses — rejected - 20 Apr 2007 - Division No. 94
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye (strong)

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill was designed to exclude Parliament and all MPs' business from the power of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

In this division, the majority of MPs voted against limiting the power of this Bill so that their expenses would continue to be subject to the Freedom of Information Act.

The limitation would have worked by altering the words of "House of Commons" and "House of Lords" in Schedule 1 to read:

  • House of Commons/Lords, but in relation to the House of Commons/Lords only in relation to information concerning the expenditure of any member of that House in execution of their public duties.

The sponsor of this Bill, David Maclean MP, argued that this Bill was necessary because of a growing problem of the MPs correspondence being released under Freedom of Information Laws.[3] In the later debate he exhibited a letter sent by Martin Salter MP to a local authority on behalf of a constituent in which names had not been redacted.[4]

The proposed limitation to this sweeping change shown up by this vote tested whether this was the real reason, and not merely an attempt to hide their expenses.

The timing of this Bill followed shortly after MPs lost an important legal battle to prevent disclosure of their expenses under the Freedom of Information Act.[2]

Andrew Dismore MP argued that this change wasn't necessary because "Mr. Speaker has made it clear that expenses and allowances would continue to be published."[1]

This issue was tested again in the next division Division 95

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Exempt only correspondence — rejected - 20 Apr 2007 - Division No. 95
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye

The majority of MPs voted against changing the proposed Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill (designed to remove Parliament and MPs from the power of the Freedom of Information Act 2000) so that the Freedom of Information Act would still apply to Parliament.

All that would have remained was the exemption regarding MPs' correspondence. Since this was the official justification for the proposed change in the law (the threat that Freedom of Information laws could be used to obtain sensitive correspondence),[1] this vote tested whether a law leaving in that provision would be acceptable to its proponents.

(It wasn't, because the real purpose was to hide MPs' expenses.)

This vote was a follow-on from Division 94

Since there was not enough MPs around to close the debate (it requires at least 100 MPs to vote for it)[2] the MPs opposed, even though they were in the minority, were able to carry on talking (without repeating themselves)[3] until the time for the debate ran out.

Friday afternoons (the time for debates on private members bills) have a low attendance. Initially the debate for this Bill was rescheduled for the following week (27 April 2007), but was pulled from the timetable at the last minute in order to prevent a repetition of the filibuster.[4]

Accordingly, it was rescheduled for 18 May when a large enough turn-out of MPs could be arranged in order to close the debate.[5]

The first division on that debate is Division 119.

Motion to sit in private - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 118
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'abstain

According to the rules of procedure, a Motion to sit in private can only be called once per day. Calling for it earlier in the day prevents it being used later by an MP who seeking to string a debate long enough in order to run it out of time.

For further details, see What is a motion to sit in private? in the FAQ.

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — That the Question now be proposed - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 119
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'No

The majority of MPs voted in favour of formally considering amendments to the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill designed to remove Parliament and MPs from the power of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Specifically, the sponsor of the Bill moved "that the Question now be put"[1] (the Question being whether any amendments to this Bill be made). Normally this is a quick formality, but the opponents of the Bill, who knew that there was a majority of MPs in favour of this Bill,[2] were trying to slow down the process so it would run out of time (as they succeeded in doing previously).[3]

During a filibuster, every Parliamentary procedure is available to slow things down, so the day began with the deposition of a large number of petitions[4] which some members thought were somewhat suspicious.[5]

These amendments were voted on in Division 120 and Division 121

The votes during the previous debate are Division 94 and Division 95

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Continue to disclose MPs' correspondence — rejected - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 120
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye

The majority of MPs voted against changing the proposed Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill (designed to remove Parliament and MPs from the power of the Freedom of Information Act 2000) to not include the exemption for MPs' correspondence.

The Bill was to add the following Freedom of Information exemption:

  • Information is exempt information if it consists of correspondence between a Member of Parliament and a public authority, as listed in Schedule 1 of this Act.
  • The duty to confirm or deny does not arise in relation to information which is exempt information by virtue of this section.

The proposal, which MPs voted against, would have deleted this provision, and kept only the part which prevented the Freedom of Information laws from applying to Parliament (and to MPs' expenses). But since the official purpose of this Bill was to protect MPs' correspondence (as opposed to the actual reason of hiding their expenses) they had to vote to keep it.

The vote to start discussion on this amendment was made in Division 119.

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Exempt constituents' letters only — rejected - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 121
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye

The majority of MPs voted against changing the proposed Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill (designed to remove Parliament and MPs from the power of the Freedom of Information Act 2000) so that the exemption for MPs' correspondence applied only to constituents' letters.

The vote to keep this section was made in Division 120

  • For the purposes of section 41(1), information which—
  • is held only by virtue of being contained in a communication between a member of the House of Commons, acting in his capacity as such, or a member of the House of Lords, and a public authority, and
  • in the case of a member of the House of Commons, consists of information relating to the personal affairs of a constituent of that member,
  • shall, unless the contrary is indicated, be deemed to have been communicated in circumstances importing an obligation of confidence.

Like the votes during the previous debate, Division 94 and Division 95, this proposed change tested the official reason given for this change in the law[1] by targeting it at that reason (confidentiality of constituency business) more specifically.

When a question was raised about the subsequent lack of progress of this Bill through the House of Lords,[2] the Leader of the House correctly pointed out that correspondence relating to constituents was already exempt from disclosure.

The next move during the debate was the break the filibuster in Division 122

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Third Reading — Closure - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 122
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'No (strong)

The majority of MPs voted in favour of a motion to end the debate on the Third Reading of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill.

Unlike a normal vote, where a majority is sufficient, a motion for closure requires at least 100 MPs in favour, according to Standing Order 37. It was for this reason (to break the filibuster) that this debate on this Bill had suddenly been delayed in order to organize enough MPs (many of whom were ministers) in attendance.[2]

During this Third Reading debate, one MP reminded the house that some of the justifications for the Bill were spurious because they would have been addressed by earlier amendments[3] (such as those given in Division 94).

PublicWhip received complaints from some of the MPs who voted for this closure motion, but didn't vote in the final Third Reading vote, in Division 123, because we marked them as being in favour of this Bill when they claimed only to be in favour of coming to a final democratic decision by hastening the vote. To see those who voted for closure (in order to beef up the numbers to over 100) and didn't vote on the final motion, go here.

Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill — Third Reading - 18 May 2007 - Division No. 123
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'No

The majority of MPs voted in favour the Bill to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information Act from the House of Commons.[1]

Owing to no member of the House of Lords picking it up, the proposal was deliberately lost in the Parliamentary process.[2]

Later, Tom Brake MP proposed an alternative Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill to:[3][4]

  • remove the provisions permitting Ministers to overrule decisions of the Information Commissioner and Information Tribunal;
  • limit the time allowed for public authorities to respond to requests involving consideration of the public interest; and
  • amend the definition of public authorities.

But the session ended before it could reach a debate.

MPs' allowances — External audits and no more furniture — rejected - 3 Jul 2008 - Division No. 253
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'No

The majority of MPs voted against accepting recommendations 1-4, 6, 7 and 13[1] of the following recommendations made by the Members Estimate Committee.[2] See below for details of these recommendations.

They did this by replacing the motion which read:[3]

  • This House
  • welcomes the Third Report from the Members Estimate Committee: Review of Members Allowances (House of Commons Paper 578);
  • endorses in particular the recognition of the need for a robust system of scrutiny for parliamentary allowances and the accompanying emphasis in the Report on improved audit;
  • and is of the opinion that
  • Recommendations 1-5 (audit and assurance),
  • Recommendations 6 and 7 (scope of overnight expenses),
  • Recommendations 9 and 10 (Communications Allowance),
  • Recommendations 11 and 12 (travel),
  • Recommendations 13 and 14 (overnight expenses),
  • Recommendation 15 (resettlement), and
  • Recommendations 16-18 (other SSRB recommendations)
  • should be implemented, subject to decisions of the Members Estimate Committee with respect to their introduction and application;

with an alternative motion, which read:[4]

  • This House
  • welcomes the report from the Members Estimate Committee;
  • recognises the need to strengthen the system of scrutiny and is of the opinion that a rigorous internal system of audit of the Additional Costs Allowance be introduced covering 25 per cent. of hon. Members each year, and every hon. Member each Parliament;
  • and is of the opinion that Recommendations 5 (staff contracts), 8 (constituency offices), 9 and 10 (communications allowance), 11 and 12 (travel), 14 (overnight expenses), 15 (resettlement), and 16, 17 and 18 (other SSRB recommendations) be approved

The rejected recommendations are as follows:

Recommendation 1 was for a "robust new system of practice assurance involving regular financial health checks on records kept and processes used in Members' offices with outside professional teams covering about 25% of Members each year". This was substituted by a "rigorous internal system of audit".

Recommendation 2 would have extended "the scope of the audit engagement so that it is the same as for other public bodies."

Recommendation 3 would have reduced the receipt threshold from £25 to zero so that all claims, however small, would have had to be backed by receipts.

Recommendation 4 was for the Green Book (setting out the rules on allowances for Members) to be revised to specify more detailed rules.

Recommendation 6 was for MPs to no longer be able to claim reimbursement for furniture and household goods or for capital improvements.

Recommendation 7 was that MPs representing constituencies in outer London should be eligible to claim half of any overnight expenses allowance.

Recommendation 13 was for the Additional Costs Allowance to comprise of a £19,600 maximum budget for accommodation (excluding furniture, household goods and capital improvements) but operating on the basis of itemised reimbursement and a flat rate of £30 for daily subsistence.

MPs' financial interests — Full and complete registration - 30 Apr 2009 - Division No. 106
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye

The majority of MPs voted for a tightening of rules for the Register of Member's interests regarding directorships and remunerated employment.[1] The motion, which was passed, required them to furnish the Registrar with:

  • the precise amount of each individual payment made in relation to any interest,
  • the nature of the work carried out in return for that payment,
  • the number of hours worked during the period to which the payment relates, and
  • the name and address of the person, organisation or company making the payment (except where disclosure of the information would be contrary to any legal or established professional duty of privacy or confidentiality)

This would apply to all such interests, not only those whos value exceeded 1% of the Parliamentary salary.

Patrick Cormack MP was nervous about this level of detail proposed an amendment to this motion:[2]

  • I should like to delete the reference to hours in motion 3. There is a lovely story about the painter Whistler. He was once in a court case accused of knocking off his pictures in an hour or half an hour, and he said, "That picture does not represent an hour's work but a lifetime's experience." Often a Member of Parliament is in a position to give advice and may not take very long to give that advice, but it is of great value to those to whom it is given.

but withdrew it when it came to the vote.

MPs' expenses — No lower limit for declaration - 30 Apr 2009 - Division No. 109
Policy 'Transparency of Parliament'Aye

The majority of MPs voted for the motion:[1]

  • In respect of any claim for payment made by an hon. Member after 1 July 2009 in relation to any allowance or expenditure for which documentary evidence is required, such evidence shall be required regardless of the sum concerned.

The current limit above with a receipt must be submitted is £25. As recently as June 2008 the proposal to reduce this limit down to zero was rejected by a vote among MPs.[2][3]

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