Falconer's ministerial diaries published

Charles Falconer, Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs, has been forced to reveal details of his ministerial diary after The Observer made a freedom of nformation request.

Falconer's department refused to release the information for six months, on the grounds that there were complex issues of public interest to be taken into account. Other cabinet ministers, including Margaret Beckett, Secretary of State for the Environment, are understood to be concerned that it would leave them open to criticism. They fear that such a move would lead to accusations that they were meeting with large corporations and powerful lobbying organisations too regularly.

But Falconer has refused to provide details of meetings between himself and 'key stakeholders and policy experts', stating:

'It is in the public interest that the Secretary of State can hold free and frank discussions with stakeholders on key issues, and disclosures of the fact of these meetings would result in stakeholders unwilling to enter into discussions... Disclosure of all meetings with stakeholders and external experts may lead to greater pressure and increased expectations for a Secretary of State to meet with others to the detriment of the effective conduct of public affairs.'

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Trade and Industry, is campaigning for a public register to be made available which lists individuals and groups who meet ministers. He said:

'This is an important step towards a public register, but the fact that some meetings are still kept secret is cause for concern. It hardly suggests a deep commitment to true open government if ministers can decide which meetings they can reveal and which they won't. If they haven't got anything to hide they should disclose everybody who they meet, and if they have something to hide then that is very worrying.'

Falconer is forced to reveal diary in freedom milestone (The Observer, 24 July 2005)