Parliament to delete data on MPs’ attendance after ministers decry FOI release

Written by Alain Tolhurst on 22 June 2022 in News
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Senior parliamentarians are understood to have complained about the storage and release of information collected from use of security passes

Credit: Parliament/CC BY 3.0

The House of Commons has agreed to erase data containing on when MPs enter and leave parliament following a backlash from ministers to Freedom of Information requests.

Earlier this month, Jacob Rees-Mogg was highly critical of the ability of people outside of parliament to request data on MPs' attendance to the Commons. The Clerk of the House agreed to an urgent review on the issue, and has now altered internal policies so that when MPs use a security pass to enter or leave the building that information is held for just seven days.

It means the curtailment of a mechanism for the public to see how often an MP swipes in to arrive at the parliamentary estate has been curtailed. 

The row began when Rees-Mogg, the minister for government efficiency, tweeted that “thanks to a lefty Freedom of Information request it turns out I attended the Commons on over 100% of sitting days in a year, 159 attended vs 154 sitting days”. The FOI was based on the logs of the security passes required for anyone who works within the Palace of Westminster and other government buildings, including MPs.


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It is understood other MPs were concerned the data on when they had attended the Commons could be made public through a similar request for information, and began lobbying the parliamentary authorities for the rules to be changed so that data for MPs would not be held.

Such disclosures could be potentially embarrassing to any politician shown to be not in Parliament as often as other colleagues, or that it could demonstrate they were not in attendance on certain days deemed to be important.

The move was backed by a second minister, Commons leader Mark Spencer, who met the speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle last week to make clear it was “not acceptable that this data is released or stored”.

Hoyle then ordered the clerk, who is the designated data controller for parliament, to review the policy on data protection. 

It is understood the Clerk then received representation from MPs from all parties, and also members of the House of Commons Commission, legal counsel and HR on changing the policy.

A Commons spokesperson said the review was now complete, and after considering “the relevant advice and representations, the data retention policy for Members will be changed with immediate effect, so that all pass usage data will be held for seven days only”.

Other pass data, such as for staff, civil servants or the media, who also have security cards, is not affected and could still be subject to FOI.

Such logs relating to people entering Downing Street were a key part of the Sue Gray investigation into the so-called “patygate” row, with multiple references to pass data in the full report.

The Commons spokesperson added: “The Clerk is satisfied that retention of this data for the proposed period meets all our health, safety and security requirements.”

 

About the author

Alain Tolhurst is chief reporter for PublicTechnology sister publication PoliticsHome, where a version of this story first appeared. He tweets as @Alain_Tolhurst.

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