Thursday, January 22, 2009

Political engagement

Chastened by this post by the Yorkshire Ranter I wrote to my MP concerning Freedom of Information Order 2009, an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act that would allow MPs expenses details to be kept secret. This is the content of the email I sent him:

Dear Mr Maples

I am writing concerning the Freedom of Information Order 2009 (described here:

My understanding is that this Order will use the provision in section 82 of the Freedom of Information Act to allow an exemption for MPs and Lords so that they do not have to reveal details of their personal expenditure.

This seems to be in response to the FOI request concerning MPs expenses that has been compiled and is due for release.

My objections to the Freedom of Information Order 2009 are as follows:

1) It will mean that the large quantity of public money that has been spent collecting receipts will have been wasted.

2) As the FOI request concerns how taxpayer's money has been spent (and what you and your fellow MPs spent at John Lewis can hardly be considered secret for reasons of national security) we have a right to know.

3) It implies that parliament is uniquely privileged over other public sector bodies as to how it spends money.

4) It reflects badly on the reputation of the Houses of Parliament that MPs feel it is necessary to keep their expenditure details concealed.

It is my understanding that this Order needs two parliamentary votes, one in the Commons, one in the Lords, which are scheduled for Thursday the 22nd March.

I would be very grateful if you would consider the points above and choose to vote against this Freedom of Information Order.

yours sincerely

Thomas James

And now look what has happened:

On the 16th of May 2008 the High Court ruled that MPs’ expenses must be published under the Freedom of Information Act.

Tomorrow [[[i.e. today]]], MPs were going to vote on changing the law to keep their expenses secret after all, just before publication was due and after spending nearly a million of your pounds and seven months compiling the data.

However, after a tremendous response from you, with over 7,000 members on our Facebook group, 4,000 messages sent to MPs, help from Stephen Fry, and a helpful 4th Report of the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, it appears that the vote has been cancelled – Guardian, Times, BBC.

As President Obama said in his inauguration speech: “And those of us who manage the public’s dollars will be held to account – to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day – because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.”

Huzzah! The system works.

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