Parliament: Home Affairs: Rebellion looms over secrecy Bill
Wednesday 08 December 1999
The Home Secretary said he was willing to compromise over aspects of the Bill amid a looming rebellion over the Government's failure to end the culture of secrecy in Whitehall. MPs are concerned that under the measure the Government can choose to withhold policy advice that has been received.
Tony Wright, Public Administration Committee chairman, said during the Bill's second reading that such decisions should be a matter for an independent commissioner and not a minister or public service.
Mr Straw said there must be a distinction between factual information held by the Government and policy advice, which is never made public. "A minister could choose to withhold information because it was highly prejudiced to national security in a way that the commissioner has not thought of. It is quite important to have faith in the mechanism. This Bill will lead to a cultural change in Whitehall. It is the first time the public will have the statutory right to know."
He conceded that neither the BSE scandal nor arms-to-Iraq affair would have been prevented if the Bill had been law then. "In neither case do I believe that [a freedom-of-information] regime as proposed here, or any that I've seen, would have ensured or guaranteed that the circumstances which arose in respect of arms-to-Iraq or BSE would not have happened." The "substantial harm" test favoured by freedom-of-information campaigners rested on an uncertain definition of the word "substantial". The Bill was likely to encourage public bodies and private companies to develop openness.
Mr Straw acknowledged that the white paper produced by David Clark, former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster before he was sacked in the 1998 reshuffle, had recommended the substantial-harm test.
Under it, councils, health authorities, police and other services and central government would have only been able to withhold information if disclosure would have caused substantial harm to an individual or group of people.
An Information Tribunal will also be set up to hear appeals against the commissioner's decisions or refusals by organisations to disclose data.
Kirstie Allsopp has waded into the female fertility debate again
Gillian Anderson lays into gender disparity in Hollywood
The Sistine Chapel is set to be illuminated with thousands of LEDs
- 1 Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
- 2 Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
- 3 'F*ck it, I quit': KTVA reporter Charlo Greene quits live on air in spectacular fashion
- 4 35,000 walrus gather on north-west Alaska beach 'for a rest'
- 5 Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Snoop Dogg and Jared Leto buy a stake in Reddit as A-list invests $50m
Prince held a Facebook Q&A and this is the only question he answered...
Brad Pitt, on the moment he completely lost his temper with Clint Eastwood's son
Jennifer Lawrence nude photos leak: More celebrities allegedly targeted as third wave of hacked images released
Cheryl Cole named 'the most dangerous celebrity' on the internet
Exclusive: 'Putin's Russia has been my biggest regret,' says Nato's outgoing Secretary General
The Osborne Ultimatum: Chancellor’s benefits freeze bombshell will affect ten million households
Former Tory donor Arron Banks ups his Ukip donation to £1million following William Hague 'nobody' comment
There’s no excuse for Dave Lee Travis’s behaviour, but we need to keep a sense of proportion
Should gay sex be illegal? 16% of Britons think so
Mark Reckless becomes second Tory MP to defect to Ukip in a month
- < Previous
- Next >
£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission, 1st yr OTE £30-£40k : SThree:...
£45000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...
£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: My client are looking fo...
£40000 - £45000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Domino ...