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Freedom of Information and rejected honours

Letter to The Times responding to an article by Matthew Parris arguing that “the advance of Freedom of Information should be reversed.”

The letter was published in The Times on 31 January 2011.

Sir, Bewilderingly, Matthew Parris seizes on the disclosure of the names of those refusing honours to call for the Freedom of Information Act to be restricted (‘Back to scrawled notes and secret whispers’, Jan 28). He suggests that Whitehall may now be discussing how to avoid recording this information to prevent such sensitive releases in future. That is most unlikely.

The requester had merely asked for the names of deceased persons who had refused honours, the awards involved and the dates. No information about anyone still living, no correspondence and no internal Whitehall discussions were sought. Where significant research might have been needed to establish if someone had died, the requester proposed that the names should simply be withheld, to avoid the work. The Information Commissioner ruled that refusals within the last ten years should not be disclosed, even though those concerned were deceased.

The FOI principle is that information should be released unless disclosure is harmful. What is the harm here? No living individual’s privacy has been infringed. No civil servant’s advice has been revealed. No time-consuming inquiries have had to be made. No-one thought worthy of an honour will now be denied it and no-one inclined to reject an honour will now feel obliged to accept it.

Maurice Frankel
Director, Campaign for Freedom of Information

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