By David Rose
Tuesday, 20 February 2007
An MP has pledged to lead a Commons revolt over a controversial attempt to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.
A private members bill, introduced by former Tory chief whip David Maclean, would, if it becomes law, prevent journalists and others from using FoI requests to obtain information contained in MPs' correspondence with government departments and other public bodies.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, has vowed to oppose the bill when it comes before the Commons for its crucial Report Stage and Third Reading on 20 April.
Maclean's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill has already been given an unopposed Second Reading and has been approved by 19-member committee drawn from MPs in all parties.
Opponents can attempt to block Private Members Bills at the Report Stage using filibustering tactics. To prevent Baker and other critics from talking out the two-clause bill, Maclean may be forced to muster 100 MPs in order to force a closure vote and secure the Commons' approval to be sent to the House of Lords.
Maclean has been impressed by the amount of support he has secured. Among the MPs who spoke up for the Bill in committee were Labour MPs George Howarth (Knowsley North and Sefton) Kevan Jones, (North Durham) and Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East).
Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey (North Devon) also raised no objection.
Harvey, chairman of the House of Commons Commission, told MPs: "Requests under the FoI Act are becoming increasingly intrusive, particularly on issues such as t he additional costs allowance. In that respect, they are getting into very personal realms - they are going behind the front door into Members' homes."
While the Government insists the Bill must be decided on a free vote, Tony Wright, Labour chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, has accused the whips of collaborating to ensure the Bill gets approved.
Constitutional Affairs minister Bridget Prentice has also indicated where her own sympathies lie.
"We should not allow the 2000 Act to disrupt the vital relationship between and MP and his or her constituents, and the time has come to address the issue," she told MPs.
Baker told Press Gazette: "The Government is backtracking on the FoI Act.
"This is a throw back to the 1950s when Parliament was a private members' club.
"If this is passed we will have the absurd position of exempting from the legislation those people who passed the law."
Baker recently won a case before the Information Tribunal which forced the disclosure of more details of MPs' travel expenses.
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Bangalore, February 23, 2007
The wait is certainly agonizing for Vaishanavi Kasturi, a visually impaired student, as she knocks on the doors of the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore to know why she could not make it despite her excellent performance in CAT 2006.
On Friday, Vaishanaviâ€™s father RK Kasturi spent several hours closeted with a team of officials from IIM-B, asking them why his daughter was not called for a group discussion and personal interview. Vaishanavi cleared the CAT with a percentile of 89.29, outdoing thousands of other candidates. She was certainly eligible to sit for the next round of tests â€” the group discussion and interview â€” what with the IIM-B setting a cut-off of 86.42 percentile for the disabled. But the call never came.
Disappointed, Vaishanaviâ€™s family filed a notice under the Right to Information Act, which got Kasturi the meeting with the school authorities.
At the end of the discussion, Kasturi still did not have an answer for his daughter. He told the Hindustan Times: â€œThey told us that she did not make it because others (in the category of applicants with physical disabilities) were graduates or had work experience, etc. We had a long meeting and discussed many things because we want to understand where we stand. Let us wait till Monday (February 26). We have to attend a hearing at the RTI Commissionerâ€™s office that day. The group discussions and interviews are scheduled for April. Let us see what happens on Monday.â€
For Vaishnavi â€” a sixth semester BCom student of a local college â€” the doors to IIM-B may not have opened for her but another prestigious institute, the MS Ramaiah Institute of Management, has offered her a free seat for a post-graduate diploma in management.
Vaishanavi, however, still hopes she will qualify for the Indian Institute of Management-Bangalore at the end of the hearing at the RTI Commissionerâ€™s office in the state capital on Monday.
IIM says no to top scorer : HindustanTimes.com