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British MPs place themselves above the law

world Updated: May 20, 2007 15:27 IST
Vijay Dutt
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It has been declared a shameful day for British Parliament as MPs placed themselves above the law by voting to exempt themselves from the Freedom of Information Act (FOI).

This they had themselves had legislated and it gives the right to information. More outrage followed when it emerged that the approval in the House of Commons by 96 against 25 of the motion by the former Tory chief whip David Maclean to exempt parliament from the FOI included at least 20 ministers.

This backing by ministers was ironic as just a day before Gordon Brown, the prime minister-in-waiting, had declared that he would re-build trust in the government and make it more open and accountable. He has rejected calls to block the move and let MPs move closer to make the exemption a law.

His aides justified this by saying that "Gordon has also spoken about the sovereignty of Parliament. If MPs have voted this measure through then that is a matter for them". But, Lib Dem leader Sir Menzies Campbell asked Brown to show his commitment to FOI.

But that did not stop the critics calling the move a "squalid" bid to shroud Parliamentary expenses and allowances in secrecy, saying that it was "a dark day for democracy" and that the Government was in favour of the Private Member’s Bill and allowed it time to progress through Parliament. The frontbenchers on either side washed their hands off by saying they were neutral.

MPs justified the move saying it would prevent correspondence being revealed to constituents. Maclean claimed the move would prevent correspondence from falling into the hands of "criminals or the BNP".

Opponents claim that the FOI Act, introduced in 2005, already prevents the disclosure of confidential letters containing personal data.