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Immigration risks and FOI

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Martin Rosenbaum | 17:43 UK time, Monday, 9 November 2009

The Conservatives are accusing Labour ministers of trying to cover up failings in immigration policy because of the way the Home Office responded to a freedom of information request. This follows a story in the Sunday Times about how immigration officials had been allowed "to take risks" when tackling a backlog of applications to live in the UK.

This article was based on a Home Office FOI disclosure. It's been followed up in the media elsewhere.

The shadow home secretary Chris Grayling told the House of Commons: "More and more evidence is now emerging to suggest that the government broke freedom of information laws and tried to cover up a deliberate change of policy designed to encourage much higher levels of immigration."

The government of course rejects this. But in any case the funny thing about all this is that the "evidence" is contained in documents which have been publicly available on the Home Office website for seven months.

They were published on the department's log of FOI disclosures on 9 April.

The Home Office was forced to disclose them by a ruling from the Information Commissioner [280KB PDF], which also accused the department of missing deadlines and "failure to engage with the Commissioner's investigation".

So what does this tell us? To start with, perhaps opposition politicians and journalists (yes, me included) should read the FOI disclosure logs of government departments more carefully.

But perhaps it also tells us something about the relationship between the web and the media. Documents are available on the internet for anyone interested to read for several months - yet it's only when the mainstream media focus on them that other journalists and politicians get interested.


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