The latest ruse from Speaker Martin and his cronies

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.

6 Responses to “The latest ruse from Speaker Martin and his cronies”

  1. Alex Skene says:

    Hi Heather

    There have been a few s34 refusals on WhatDoTheyKnow too

    House of Commons – no certificates issued, it seems they only issue them when you ask for an internal review (which takes much longer than the recommended 20 working days)
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/home_secretary_jacqui_smith_parl
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/damian_green_arrest

    House of Lords – examples of their certificates included too – they would look nice framed
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/searches_of_offices_of_members
    http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/plans_for_digitisation_of_record

    The ICO are currently rewriting their “Awareness Guidance” note on S34 – there is a draft copy & related email correspondence on the site: http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/guidance_re_foia_section_34

    I looked back through the Hansard debates for the original FOI Bill, and there was no mention that it was designed for the most sensitive of information. Parliamentary privilege has been around for hundreds of years, it’s their method of controlling what gets published out of Parliament:

    “Each House has the right to prohibit publication of its debates and proceedings. This right is an aspect of Parliament’s general right to control its own affairs. Publication of debates, especially false or misleading reports, was in the past repeatedly declared to be a breach of privilege.”
    http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt199899/jtselect/jtpriv/43/4312.htm#n399

    Not that I agree with it…

    Cheers
    Alex

  2. heather says:

    Hi Alex,
    I seem to recall that in the Lords debate during the passage of the FOIA there was discussion about the use of s34. This would have been in 2000 I believe. And also I think the ICO had said he would keep track of how many certificates had been issued in this manner.
    I’ll try and check into it – but if you find anything let me know.

  3. Nick says:

    It would be interesting if the people who received certificates under s.34(1) complained to the ICO on the basis that the House authorities had breached their duties under s.16 by failing to spell out what information was held. The ICO would have jurisdiction to consider that complaint. (Although no jurisdiction if a follow-up certificate under s.34(2) was issued.)

  4. JP_Fife says:

    Dear God! All this trouble in the media and they’re STILL coming up with excuses? You should try and get some of the media attention onto this right now.

  5. Gareth says:

    Regarding the British Council FOI requests: Presumably that relates to this Telegraph story from February.

    http://tinyurl.com/or2qr6

  6. David Payne says:

    Quote “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” Unquote

    Expect this from your government. When the Serious Crime Bill was before parliament I pointed out to relevant parties that Section 2 – Encouraging or assisting crime / Inchoate offences does not mention ‘serious’ crime at all. The 2007 Act does not appear to be materially altered in any way.

    Section 3 of the Act is even more explicit: Other measures to prevent or disrupt serious and other crime.

    “Other crime” is anything those who decide what is or isn’t criminal decide – including any protest you may care to make against government, be it a demonstration or witholding council tax.

    Entrepreneurial prosecutors will have a field day with this legislation, and doubtless many others of the 3,000 plus crimes enacted by the Bliar/Brown lawmongers.

    Regards

    David Payne

Leave a Reply