Freedom of Information: the beginning of a new chapter in openness

Lord Falconer of Thoroton, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs and Lord Chancellor
Freedom of Information: The beginning of a new chapter in openness
CBI Conference Centre, London, 25 January 2005
"People have asked for details of schools admission policies. They have asked for the amounts that individual schools spend on new text books. People who are waiting for operations in particular hospitals have asked about patient waiting lists. They have asked about the bed capacity of their local hospital. People have asked about performance figures for their local authority recycling schemes. They have asked for information about their public library. They have asked about pension funds. They have asked about attacks on teachers. They have asked about repairs to council properties. They have asked about car parking contracts. And naturally they have asked in detail about the wallpaper on my walls! So people have asked, with the exception of my last example, about a whole range of issues important to them and to their families. To their lives and their communities. That’s what freedom of information is really about."
" is interesting to note that the department which has received the largest proportion of requests – though this may well be for particular reasons - has been the National Archives, followed by Defence, and then by Education and Skills. In all so far, more than 2,600 requests for information under FOI have been received."
"People do want openness. But they want the government they have elected to get on with government too. Good government is open government. But good government is effective government too [...] Again unsurprisingly, given the strong opinions, for and against, which the war in Iraq has produced in this country and elsewhere, one of the most common requests – certainly from journalists – was for the release under FOI of the Attorney General’s advice to the Government on Iraq [...] Section 42(1) of the Freedom of Information Act provides that information is exempt if it could be the subject of a claim to legal professional privilege. This exemption clearly applies to the Attorney General’s advice in this case. Other exemptions also apply, as we have made clear today. Accordingly, the Government has today responded to people seeking publication of this further advice under FOI by declining to do so [...] What we have announced today is in line with what we have consistently said about the Attorney General’s advice. And in line with what we have consistently said too on freedom of information: that we are committed to openness, but that government must have the room to do the job it is elected to do."
"On the basis of this, some will rush to judgement about freedom of information. I believe they would be wrong to do so. An assessment of freedom of information certainly should not be made on the basis of one case alone. Freedom of information should eventually be assessed on the information it provides broadly, and especially on the information it provides proactively, as part of the normal way governments do their job. In other words, by the cultural change I am sure it will bring about."
"So we are seeing already public organisations being more open. Releasing material not in response to requests, but because they know that the climate of policy and the climate of opinion has changed. Because they know that a decisive change did take place on January 1 this year. Because they know that the ratchet of government has moved on a significant notch, and will not reverse. Once the progress is underway, it is impossible to go back. Because they know that cultural change is underway – and that they are a part of it."