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Prime Minister wants greater freedom of information

On the Today Programme this morning, the Prime Minister said major constitutional reform was now necessary, including an extension of the Freedom of Information Act:

Prime Minister: Where there is a need to clean up the system it will be done. Where there is need for people to be disciplined that will happen. Where repayment of money has got to made it should happen. I was brought up to believe that integrity, telling the truth, taking responsibility are at the heart of the political system. Where mistakes have been made they have got to be rectified.

But equally, I’m now convinced, that what I’ve wanted to do for some time – I actually set it out in 2007 – is that major constitutional reform is now necessary. We need to make power more accountable to the people who elect Members of Parliament and councillors. We need to open up areas of our public life to greater freedom of information, so an extension of freedom of information. And I think we also need to give citizens more rights so that they can hold people to account and actually feel that they feel their interests are better served by the political system. So I’m going to set up a national council for democratic renewal. I’m going to invite large numbers of people from outside the political system to come in and help us do this. And I hope we can move forward with major change as quickly as possible…

I’ve been calling for constitutional reform for two years. Even before the Telegraph revelations I asked Sir Christopher Kelly, the Committee on Standards in Public Life, to investigate all this. I took it upon myself to do so. I then put proposals to Parliament long before the Telegraph came out with the revelations. And many of them were accepted and changed the system. Since the Telegraph’s revelations we’ve made further changes to move from a self-regulatory system to a statutory system. Now that means there has to be a code of conduct, legislated for to irradicate these things happening again.

The question now is can we clean up other parts of the system? Can we open up to transparency a whole series of other public bodies including health authorities, local authorities, maybe even including the BBC so that people have to publish transparently things that are going on and at the same time, can we assure the electorate that we are taking the action that is necessary, so that every point the issue is whether we can advance the individual rights and the individual entitlements that are there for the citizens, the constituents that we are there to serve…

I advocated freedom of information 20 years ago. And I’ve been advocating for a written constitution for some time. We are determined to go further on constitutional reform now on the democratic renewal of our country, on freedom of information…

Evan Davis: In January this year Harriet Harman proposed excluding expenses from the Freedom of Information Act. That was January this year, a Cabinet member, Leader of the Commons. The Times reported that you for a time were supporting a three line whip on the proposal to bar full publication. Is that true?

Prime Minister: This is not correct. There was an issue about how the Freedom of Information Act would be used to publish expenses. And people wanted this information public. Look I want far more information public. You go back 20 years and the support I’ve given for freedom of information. When I became Prime Minister I removed the charge that was actually going to be imposed on people that were calling for freedom of information. And I think it’s rather wrong to say that we were against freedom of information when we actually introduced it.

Evan Davis: Do you think you have delivered the promised end of spin? The culture of spin?

Prime Minister: Of course, I’ve tried to be as open as I can, as transparent as I can. I’ve tried at all times both to tell the truth about what’s going on and tried also at the same time to expand the freedom of information available to people. But I want to do better in the future and I want government to do better and I want the BBC to join a debate about the future and the future is how our constitution can better serve the public. How the listeners today can see that their rights are enhanced in the way that they feel powerless in some cases at the moment. How we can deal with the anger that people have about our politics that is not as sufficiently accountable to the public as it should be. And how we can open up those areas of our public life that have been too secret and where in the dark recesses of power to much information is held where the public actually should have that information. Now that’s my agenda, that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. That’s what we’re going to get about doing as we also at the same time the action to solve the economic problem.”

On the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Prime Minister also credited the role of the FOI Act in exposing the problems:

“This is the response to a Freedom of Information Act that was created by a Labour government. We wanted there to be free information. The House of Commons is now subject to this freedom of information. Others will have to follow. In a free society, open information and open society is the key to a proper democracy being accountable. I’ve always supported that.”

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