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MPs vote to exclude themselves from FOI laws

A controversial private members’ bill to exempt MPs and peers from freedom of information laws has passed through the House of Commons after opponents failed to block its progress.

The move was immediately condemned as an attack on democracy by FOI campaigners and MPs opposed to the measure.

Bob Satchwell, Society of Editors’ executive director, said: “Editors should check how their MPs voted and ask them to explain themselves to their constituents.”

The Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill secured its third reading – which will be in the House of Lords – by 96 votes to 25, a majority of 71.

The legislation was introduced by Tory former chief whip David Maclean, who insisted that his Bill was not intended to strike a general blow against transparency laws.

Supporters of Mr Maclean’s Bill say it will protect the confidentiality of correspondence between constituents and MPs.

But opponents say that this correspondence is already exempt under the FoI Act, and warn the real aim of the Bill is to stop embarrassing disclosures about MPs’ expenses and allowances.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said in a statement: “For Parliament to exclude itself from the Act would send a deeply negative message to the rest of the public sector.

“It will suggest that MPs consider that the drawbacks of compliance outweigh the public benefit.

“That would make it harder for those conscientious officials who are trying to persuade their colleagues to adopt an open approach and reinforce the views of authorities which are themselves resisting disclosure.”

The Bill now passes to the House of Lords, where it may meet more opposition, and could have to pass through the Commons yet again, if amendments are made.