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Information rage

Martin Rosenbaum | 13:25 UK time, Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Who's more angry today? The cabinet ministers who now face the prospect that the minutes of their meetings might be published five years later, or the MPs who could have to reveal full details of what they've been claiming for the costs of running a second home?

My guess is the MPs (or many though by no means all of them), if not by much. Their dilemma is much more acute. The information involved is much more extensive and probably contains much more potential for personal embarrassment. It's also much harder in their case to construct a case for maintaining secrecy that is likely to appeal to the general public.

Either way, three years after its introduction, freedom of information is certainly biting hard now, and it's hurting. On the other hand there will be those openness campaigners who will say that it if isn't hurting, then it's not working. The fury of some MPs is equalled by the jubilation of those who pursued the information, such as Heather Brooke.

Nevertheless we still don't know how much information will actually end up being released in either case, as in both there is still a potentially long appeal process to be exhausted.

However, a small part of yesterday's judgment from the Information Tribunal does make clear that one of the journalists involved, Ben Leapman, certainly won't be getting some of the information he asked for. That's because, in the period between rejecting Leapman's request and being told that he'd complained to the Commissioner, the House of Commons destroyed it. The Tribunal says 'the destruction occurred because of incompetence rather than intent'.

As Nick Robinson notes, this issue of destruction of records may reappear in this matter.

And by the way, who are the obscure and unelected figures on the Information Tribunal who have taken this far-reaching decision which will infuriate so many elected representatives of the people? Andrew Bartlett, who chaired the panel, is a QC, and there were two lay members - according to the Tribunal's website, David Wilkinson is a 'consultant on public administration in emerging and developing countries' and Pieter de Waal is a 'legal advisor at the Olympic Delivery Authority'.

Comments   Post your comment

I'm glad Martin has picked up on the destruction, by the Commons, of expenses reciepts submitted by certain MPs -- including Tony Blair -- for the financial year 2001/2, after I had requested them under the Freedom of Information Act.

It was a brazen act. The Commons admin chief, Andrew Walker, apologised to me at the Tribunal hearing, and told me that they had since changed their procedures to make sure this won't happen again.

I'm taking him at his word, and therefore I trust that Nick Robinson's typically gloomy prediction of a shredding frenzy won't come to fruition.

If nothing else, shouldn't Blair's expenses receipts be preserved for future generations to learn from? If they were Churchill's or Reagan's, they would be museum pieces.

- Ben

  • 2.
  • At 10:14 PM on 29 Feb 2008,
  • Steven wrote:

In the US far more damaging stuff gets released but the media there do not kick up a big fuss about it. If they did the FOI act there would probably be under threat.

Only the other day I heard a recording of Kissinger and Nixon casually discussing blowing up a Dyke in Vietnam that would kill thousands. Then Nixon suggests nuking them.

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