Archives for policy formulation

Should policy discussions be kept under wraps?

This article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, was published in The Independent on 28 March 2008.

Should policy discussions between officials be disclosed under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act? Or should they be withheld to reassure civil servants that they can speak frankly, safe from the press and public’s prying eyes?

These issues were central to two recent High Court cases. Each involved the Government challenging rulings by the Information Tribunal that such material should be disclosed.

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High Court upholds Information Tribunal EIR decision

The High Court has dismissed the government’s appeal against the Information Tribunal in the first case of its kind under the Environmental Information Regulations. The Tribunal had ruled that the Export Credits Guarantee Department should disclose the submissions it received from other government departments in 2003 about the so-called “Sakhalin project”. This involved a $650 million project to extract oil and gas off the coast of the Sakhalin island, north of Japan, which involved risks to the survival of grey whales, an endangered species. Friends of the Earth had applied for the submissions under the EIRs.

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Welcome for Iraq cabinet minutes decision

The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the Information Commissioner’s decision today that cabinet minutes dealing with the war in Iraq should be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act.

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Campaign challenges refusal to disclose FOI costs survey

The government’s new proposals to restrict use of the FOI Act are based in part on a survey carried out in January 2006 of the time needed to respond to FOI requests. This data was used to estimate the costs of the FOI Act and the possible savings from new restrictions. (These estimates are contained in a report commissioned by the Department for Constitutional Affairs from consultants ‘Frontier Economics’) .

Two months before the government’s proposals were published, the Campaign made an FOI request for the data obtained during this survey.

The request was refused by the Department for Constitutional Affairs. The DCA maintained that the information fell within the FOI exemption relating to the “formulation and development of government policy” and that the balance of public interest favoured withholding the information.

However, the survey merely describes the numbers of requests made to each government department during the week in question and provides a breakdown of the time needed to respond to them.

The Campaign has now asked the DCA to review its refusal, pointing out that (a) the requested information is largely factual (b) the FOI Act requires departments to have regard to “the particular public interest” in disclosing such factual information (c) the Act envisages that such information will be disclosed before decisions are taken (d) the DCA’s decision to refuse the request appears to completely disregard its own guidance on the exemption (e) access to the data at the time of the request could have prevented the Frontier Economics report from incorporating at least one exaggerated estimate of the volume of FOI requests being made (f) other important opportunities to make use of the data have already been lost.

It’s Britain, so some doors are locked

A version of this article by the Campaign’s director, Maurice Frankel, appeared in The Independent on 31 December 2005

The Freedom of Information Act has begun to open doors – but is yet to be fully tested against those the government is determined to keep locked.

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Freedom of Information Bill “fails to cure BSE secrecy problem”

The secrecy problem at the heart of the BSE crisis will continue to endanger public safety in future, because of the government’s deeply inadequate Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, say campaigners.

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“Minimal” amendments do little to improve flawed information bill

Ministers have rejected calls to improve the Freedom of Information Bill, and are proposing only a handful of minor changes for the bill’s repeatedly delayed committee stage in the House of Lords. The limited nature of the government’s amendments, published today, were criticised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

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Publication of Welsh cabinet minutes “shatters taboo”

Today’s publication of the Welsh Cabinet minutes, just 6 weeks after the cabinet meeting took place, was welcomed by the Campaign for Freedom of Information. The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said the initiative “shatters the taboo that revealing cabinet proceedings before 30 years have passed will fatally undermine decision-making. The minutes reveal business-like, practical and sometimes mundane discussions and suggest that the traditional secrecy in this area may have more to do with protecting mystique than real secrets or highly sensitive discussions”.

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Information bill “will still allow cover-ups”

Dangers to public safety and damaging mistakes by ministers could still be suppressed despite new government amendments to the Freedom of Information Bill published today (March 24), according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

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Scotland overtakes UK on Freedom of Information

The Scottish cabinet has rejected key elements of Jack Straw’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, in proposals published today.1   As a result Scotland will have a significantly better Freedom of Information (FOI) Act than the rest of the UK, according to the Campaign for Freedom of Information.

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