» Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Freedom of Information Act 

Put that the vote broke the spirit of the convention that MP’s had a free vote on such matters, the PMS replied that there were a number of votes tomorrow. The votes on the proposals to enhance transparency were matters for the House and were free votes. There was one vote that was on Government business and as people knew, normally Government business was whipped. But to be clear on this, we had sought to operate on a cross-party basis.

At every stage, there had been consultation with the main opposition party, on what the best way to proceed was. In our view, the package that the Leader of the House, acting in her role as Leader of the House, had been working on, was a significant enhancement to the current system. It introduced a clear and reasonable set of rules with a robust form of audit, a transparent publication scheme, a clear set of accountabilities and in a way that the costs of which were proportionate and the proposals were workable.

Asked what the explanation was as to why the Government had changed its mind, the PMS said that the Government had not changed its mind on this. What the Government was doing was facilitating the will of the House. This was a matter for MP’s to decide and insofar as it required legislation in order to enact the will of the House, it was only the Government that could bring forward that legislation. The proposals did represent a significant enhancement in transparency.

There would be a revised version of the Green Book, there was an abolition of the monthly 400 allowance for claims for food without receipt, a new rule that only 10% of the additional cost allowance could be claimed in respect of furnishings, there were much stronger audit functions and there was a role for the NAO which would have the capability to audit all MP’s expenses right down to the receipt level.

So this was a broad package of measures that the Government was facilitating in order to get the necessary legislation through the House, reflecting the will of the House as we understood it. Put that the changes were purely due to soundings from the House, the PMS said that people would have to ask the political parties those questions. The role of the Government here was to facilitate through Parliament what the House decided.

Asked if the Government would still have done it if it had disagreed with what the MP’s had wanted, the PMS said that there were free votes on the substantive proposals. There was one proposal that required a change in legislation and there had been consultation across Parliament on that. It had been discussed with the Members Estimates Committee and it was the Government’s responsibility to take forward legislation to enact the will of the House.

original source.

Briefing took place at 11:00 | Search for related news

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