The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement today that the Freedom of Information Act would be extended to additional bodies and that the 30 year period before old official papers are made public would be reduced to 20 years. This was a substantial step, the Campaign said, even if it did not go as far as the 15 year period recommended by the Dacre Review earlier this year.
However it expressed serious concern at Mr Brown’s announcement that new exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act would be introduced for Cabinet Papers and for information relating to the Royal Family.
The Campaign said it appeared that the government intended to exclude cabinet papers from the scope of the Freedom of Information Act altogether. This follows its decision in February to veto the Information Tribunal’s ruling that the cabinet minutes on the war in Iraq should be disclosed.
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “Everyone accepts that cabinet minutes should not normally disclosed, other than in truly exceptional circumstances. But if someone asks for a paper submitted to a cabinet committee 5 or 10 years ago that request should be considered on its merits. To exclude the whole class of cabinet papers from the Act is an unnecessary, retrograde step, which will protect much material that does not need to be confidential and allow the top of level of government to operate in absolute secrecy.”
The Campaign also pointed out that the Act already contains an exemption for information relating to communications with the Royal Family which is subject to the Act’s public interest test. It said additional protection was not needed. “If, for example, there is correspondence between, say, Prince Charles and ministers about proposed legislation that should remain, as at present, potentially disclosable on public interest grounds” Mr Frankel said.
Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958