Freedom of information: Secrecy laws don’t harm work of ministers

Freedom of information: Secrecy laws don’t harm work of ministers

The Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, has hit out against Whitehall insiders who are calling for the current laws on freedom of information to be repealed. The law is currently under review by Parliament.

The claims have come after several senior government insiders have suggested that a change in the law is necessary to protect Cabinet and the workings of inner government.

In response, Mr Graham said that such claims were ‘nonsense’.

The Freedom of Information Act 2000 created a right of access to all members of the public to information held by public bodies including councils, universities and other government bodies.

Tony Blair, who was Prime Minister when the legislation was brought in, has since spoken at his regret for passing the law.

“For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead,’ and handing them a mallet,” he said.

It has since been suggested that requests under the Act should be capable of being charged, as more often than not they are used by journalists looking for a story, or commercial entities looking for valuable information.

Supporters of the law, however, claim that greater transparency is good for democracy, and argue that it should actually be easier to get hold of essential information.

There is a dispute at present for the release of the risk register for the Government’s health and social care reform bill which looks set to revolutionise the NHS.

The tribunal into the Information Commissioner’s ruling on this matter is due to take place on 5 March 2012.

Defending the Act, Mr Graham wrote: “On FOI, a chorus of distinguished Whitehall insiders would have us believe against all the evidence that the act threatens good government because nobody dares to write anything down any more. But it is nonsense to say that FOIA threatens to make public what really ought to remain secret for 30 years.”

A Justice Select Committee chaired by the Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith will examine the value of the Freedom of Information Act. The committee begins hearing evidence this week.

Related links:

Read more on the story (The Guardian)

Freedom of information (FindLaw)

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