Today the British House of Lords will be looking at the latest bill to be passed up from the House of Commons for their seal of approval; in fact, they'll probably leave it till Monday. Out of all those bills passed by the Commons to be looked at by the Lords, The Private Members' Bill is perhaps the most likely to become law because it is for nobody else's benefit but theirs — MPs and Lords.
If passed the Private Members' Bill will exempt them from having to give all information requested under the Freedom of Information Act. And I don't mean information that might jeopardize Britain's security or is otherwise classified. The MPs in favour of the bill say it is to protect private letters from constituents. But MPs and Peers, as individuals, are not covered by the FOI act at all, so their correspondence to and from constituents is exempt from the FOI act anyway. Thus many fear the new exemption law is a smoke-screen to allow them to keep their abuses of expense accounts secret, and god knows what else.
If the Private Members' Bill is passed it will be law that MPs and Lords don't need to adhere to the same laws that they have been so strict in ensuring that all other public bodies adhere to. The law would effectively remove the Commons and the Lords from the list of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information act. The PM's bill also protects all MPs correspondence and prevents authorities such as councils or companies from confirming they received a letter from an MP. In all likelihood, as it currently is in so many cases, it will be up to a judge to decide whether or not the information can be withheld under the Private Members Bill — a judge who may or may not be in the House of Lords.
Tony Blair's successor for the Labour leadership and job of Prime Minister, Gordon Brown said in one of his major speeches that he would make government more open, but also said he wouldn't dictate to MPs. Telling the world that Brown would not stand in the way of the bill, his spokesman said: "Gordon has also spoken about the sovereignty of Parliament. If MPs have voted this measure through then that is a matter for them"
Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker is against the bill. He and other critics had planned to talk it out, using up all its allocated time in the Commons — but the bill was passed up to the Lords for further consideration 96-25 by its supporters with five minutes to spare. Baker claims MPs were prevented from debating the bill more fully earlier and said events "made him ashamed to be an MP."