I’ve noticed a new excuse being used by Speaker Michael Martin and the House of Commons authorities when dealing with freedom of information requests.
They are now using the section 34 exemption of ‘parliamentary privilege’ – which is an absolute exemption against which there is no public interest test.
This exemption is one of the more draconian and when it was passed it was supposed to be used for only the most sensitive of national security issues.
Instead, it’s being rolled out for all and sundry. I’ve had three FOI request rejected under this section in the past month. For such earth-shattering stuff as the creation of the Parliamentary Beer Group and Wood Panel Industry Group. Also the sudden decision to publish the 2007/08 aggregate totals for MPs’ expenses.
And it’s not just my requests being knocked back. This blogger has noticed a ruling on the Information Commissioner’s website in which the Commons used the same excuse against a member of the public who asked for correspondence and documentation relating to whether Members of Parliament should declare overseas trips paid for by the British Council.
There’s a saying: when you’re in a hole, stop digging.
It seems the Speaker and his bunch are quite happy to keep on digging and have learned absolutely nothing about what the public want from their parliamentarians: transparency.