Today's Commons vote to exempt MPs from the Freedom of Information Act is a classic stitch-up by the House of Commons Commission, a little-known junta of old schemers who run Westminster. If I tell you that the Commission is chaired by the Speaker, Michael Martin, it maybe tells you all you need to know.
Martin, widely acknowledged as one of the worst Speakers ever, is being fingered as the person responsible for today's disgraceful vote. The Private Member's Bill by Tory MP David Maclean was certainly given surprising support by the two deputy Speakers who chaired today's debate, Sylvia Heal and Sir Michael Lord. They twice allowed "closure" votes which prevented opponents of the Bill from trying to talk it out. I am told you have to go back to the early 1980s to find the last time two closure votes were allowed on a Friday in the Commons.
Bear in mind the following:
1. The House of Commons Commission runs MPs' expenses. It has had a long battle with Freedom on Information campaigners and the FOI watchdog over releasing details of those expenses.
2. The Labour and Tory frontbenches tacitly supported Maclean's Bill. Whips like to keep the details of MPs' expenses a private matter - between themselves and the MPs. It gives the Whips some power over MPs, you see. That way they can 'persuade' them into voting for the party line.
3. David Maclean is a member of the House of Commons Commission.
4. The media often use FOI but the Speaker hates the press, which has nicknamed him "Gorbals Mick".
The LibDem MP Norman Baker was so angry after today's debates that he is going around accusing the Chair of undermining the neutrality of the Speakership. This is more than just sour grapes on Baker's behalf. It is an extremely rare thing for an MP to be so critical of the Chair and I think he is on to a serious and dangerous point.
Could this be the decision which forces Michael Martin into welcome retirement? Let's hope so. He has now done serious damage to the standing of Parliament, and the to public's right to know what their MPs are up to and how they are using - or in a few cases, abusing - public funds.
I have just looked at the voting lists - the Bill went through by 113 to 23. Of the 113 MPs who voted for it only 21 were Tories. An astonishing number of government ministers voted in favour, and who should I also spy in the AYE column, but none other than that champion of freedom of information, blogging Labour MP Tom Watson. No mention on his blog of course, but that's hardly a surprise.
And for the avoidance of doubt, had I had a vote on this Bill, I would have joined John Redwood, Richard Shepherd, Philip Hollobone and James Clappison, who were the only four Tory MPs to vote in the No lobby. (apols for missing Richard Shepherd and Philip Hollobone out in the original post).
UPDATE: These are the MPs who voted in favour of the Bill...
Ainsworth, rh Mr. BobAllen, Mr. GrahamAnderson, JanetAtkinson, Mr. PeterBailey, Mr. AdrianBalls, EdBarker, GregoryBell, Sir StuartBetts, Mr. CliveBlackman, LizBrown, rh Mr. NicholasBurgon, ColinBurns, Mr. SimonButterfill, Sir JohnCairns, DavidCampbell, Mr. AlanCampbell, Mr. RonnieCawsey, Mr. IanChope, Mr. ChristopherClark, PaulClelland, Mr. DavidCoaker, Mr. VernonDavid, Mr. WayneDhanda, Mr. ParmjitDjanogly, Mr. JonathanDonohoe, Mr. Brian H.Doran, Mr. FrankDowd, JimDuddridge, JamesDunne, Mr. PhilipEagle, AngelaEagle, MariaEllwood, Mr. TobiasFabricant, MichaelFitzpatrick, JimFlint, CarolineFollett, BarbaraFoster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)Francois, Mr. MarkGardiner, BarryGodsiff, Mr. RogerHall, Mr. MikeHammond, StephenHarris, Mr. TomHenderson, Mr. DougHeppell, Mr. JohnHill, rh KeithHollobone, Mr. PhilipHurd, Mr. NickIrranca-Davies, HuwJones, Mr. KevanJones, Mr. MartynKemp, Mr. FraserKirkbride, Miss JulieKnight, rh Mr. GregLammy, Mr. DavidLaxton, Mr. BobLevitt, TomLewis, Mr. IvanLloyd, TonyMaclean, rh DavidMacShane, rh Mr. DenisMahmood, Mr. KhalidMaples, Mr. JohnMarshall, Mr. DavidMcAvoy, rh Mr. ThomasMcCabe, SteveMcCartney, rh Mr. IanMcFall, rh JohnMcGovern, Mr. JimMcIsaac, ShonaMcNulty, Mr. TonyMerron, GillianMichael, rh AlunMorley, rh Mr. ElliotMudie, Mr. GeorgeMunn, MegMurphy, Mr. DenisNeill, RobertNorris, DanO'Brien, Mr. MikePound, StephenPrentice, BridgetPritchard, MarkPurchase, Mr. KenRandall, Mr. JohnRobertson, JohnRoy, Mr. FrankRuffley, Mr. DavidRyan, JoanSalter, MartinShaw, JonathanSheridan, JimSimon, Mr. SiônSmith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)Smith, rh JacquiSnelgrove, AnneSpellar, rh Mr. JohnStewart, IanSutcliffe, Mr. GerryTami, MarkTaylor, Ms DariThomas, Mr. GarethTredinnick, DavidTwigg, DerekVara, Mr. ShaileshWard, ClaireWatson, Mr. TomWatts, Mr. DaveWicks, MalcolmWinterton, AnnWinterton, Sir NicholasWright, DavidTellers for the Ayes:Mr. Tim Boswell andMr. Andrew Dismore
And these are the ones who voted against...
Baker, NormanBurstow, Mr. PaulCable, Dr. VincentClappison, Mr. JamesCorbyn, JeremyCousins, JimFarron, TimFisher, MarkGoldsworthy, JuliaHarris, Dr. EvanHeath, Mr. DavidHowarth, DavidHughes, SimonJackson, GlendaLinton, MartinMactaggart, FionaÖpik, LembitRedwood, rh Mr. JohnReid, Mr. AlanSanders, Mr. AdrianSheerman, Mr. BarryShepherd, Mr. RichardSoulsby, Sir PeterSwinson, JoWilliams, HywelWilliams, StephenWinnick, Mr. DavidTellers for the Noes:Lorely Burt andMr. Roger Williams