This is the sort of questions we should not have to ask. It should be assumed that the laws MPs pass should apply to everyone, including themselves. The assumption however has come in for a bit of a battering recently. The issue starts with what each of us has, as a right, to know about what government and our elected representatives do in the name of the public and how they spend our money.
The government promised and indeed brought in a right to know which became law in 2005. Called the Freedom of Information Act, this was a great step forward from the secretive days of the Official Secrets Act that made a huge amount of government information into official secrets.
There was one consequence of the right to know that some MPs never actually foresaw. Their travel expenses, paid for by the tax payer, were revealed for all to see. The government itself resisted the move to publish this information but earlier this year, a legal case brought by Lib Dem MP Norman Baker, forced the publication of the expenses.
It revealed some rather large travel expenses with some MPs clocking up large bills for air travel and car expenses. Had they known these expenses were going to be published, few MPs would have been so generous to themselves with taxpayers’ money.
Conservative MP and former chief whip David Maclean then brought in a “private members bill” to exclude MPs from the Freedom of Information Act, therefore allowing them to keep their expenses secret.
A “private members bill” would normally stand no chance of getting passed by Parliament without government support. They simply get killed off, often through lack of time. That’s what Lib Dem MPs tried to do with the Maclean bill (with the support of a small number of Labour and Conservative backbenchers).
But then the Labour party intervened, and gave the bill some helpful backing to ensure it got through the Commons. This discreditable performance by Labour means this atrocious bill stands a reasonable chance of being passed.
It could be defeated in the House of Lords. Let’s hope it is.
Readers may be interested to know that Gateshead Labour MP Dave Clelland voted for the bill. Earlier this year, it was revealed that he had spend £18125 of taxpayers’ money over the previous year on travel. This consisted of £5315 car expenses, £3,699 for train travel, and a jet-setting £9,114 for air tickets.
When confronted by the Evening Chronicle about his sky high flying bill, he explained he “lives near the airport.” True! But what he didn’t say was that he lives even closer to Newcastle Central Station where he could let the less polluting train take the strain to get to London.
It will be a disgrace if the unholy alliance of the Labour government and a group of Conservative MPs takes away from the public the right to know. And it will undermine Gordon Brown’s claims that he wants a more open and accountable form of government. Hardly a good start for him.
You can sign the petition against the move to exempt MPs from Freedom of Information: just follow this link - http://www.ourcampaign.org.uk/foi