In defence of freedom of information

"Voters should be allowed to investigate what their elected government is up to as a matter of democratic right, not privilege. When Labour was in opposition Neil Kinnock promised to make a freedom of information bill his first, and Tony Blair described such legislation as "absolutely fundamental" to the new form of governance he wanted. Sadly, after taking power Mr Blair fell into the traditional executive mindset which sees openness as a luxury in the government's gift, not an entitlement. This misconception was apparent in the unrestricted ministerial veto against disclosure that so weakened the legislation; the same thinking now leaves ministers feeling justified in proposing to tighten the rules further on bean-counting grounds.

Currently, requests that would cost more than £600 to process are disallowed. Lord Falconer's first proposal is to count the expensive ministerial time spent agonising over whether to release material against this total. This raises the spectre of ministers being able to refuse to release awkward facts by playing for time. His second suggestion is that the cost cap should apply cumulatively to all requests that a particular individual or organisation makes in a particular period. This was sparked by the discovery that some, notably journalists, were making extensive use of the act."

"The reality is that the Freedom of Information Act, in spite of its flaws, has worked well. Last week the information commissioner released figures showing that few requests were from companies seeking commercial advantage, while most were from private citizens. And any notion that it is unaffordable is unfounded."

Stepping back into the dark (Guardian Leader, 30 October 2006)