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Rods against nets

Martin Rosenbaum | 12:46 UK time, Monday, 5 February 2007

There's been class warfare on the River Teign in Devon.

Or so it would seem from an internal government briefing document which the Information Commissioner has forced the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to disclose.

I have to confess that until now I have had little grasp of salmon fisheries byelaws, but my knowledge is improved thanks to the ability of civil servants to boil down complex matters of controversial policy to the key essentials. A Defra official briefed the fishing minister Ben Bradshaw as follows on the point of the Salmon and Freshwater Fisheries Act 1975:

It is 'specifically designed to protect poor, honest netsmen from the actions of wicked, arbitrary government, which might otherwise deprive them of their livelihoods for the possible benefit of richer chaps with rods or even richer chaps who own the river-banks and sell fishing permits to the chaps with the rods.'

This is an important decision from the Information Commissioner because it concerns policy advice given to a minister by a civil servant, which is the kind of material government generally tries very hard to keep secret.

Defra at first refused to release the two briefing documents involved but has now done so (here and here) following the Commissioner's decision, under the Environmental Information Regulations, that the public interest favoured disclosure.

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