Parliament & Politics: Number 10 tried to blacken my name, says ex-minister

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A FORMER cabinet minister accused Downing Street yesterday of trying to blacken his name with background briefings against him over his support for a Freedom of Information Bill.

David Clark hit out at the whispering campaign against him as he supported the publication of a backbench Bill on freedom of information aimed at putting pressure on Tony Blair to fulfil his election manifesto pledge to implement the legislation.

Mr Clark was in charge of drafting the Bill until he was sacked from the Cabinet in July. After his departure, the legislation was handed to the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who had been one of Mr Clark's strongest opponents in the Cabinet.

Angrily rejecting criticism from government sources that the draft Bill was in a poor state when he left office, Mr Clark said: "No 10 is already in operation trying to blacken me. I have witnesses. Mark Fisher [the former arts minister, who was on the cabinet committee which worked on the draft legislation] was a great ally. Mark will confirm a massive amount of work had been done on preparing it."

Mr Clark, the former chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said he had used an eminent professor as his adviser for drafting the Bill, which was more than 90 per cent complete when he was sacked. "It was accepted overseas as being superb."

In July, the Commons was given an assurance by Mr Clark that the Cabinet had agreed a timetable to publish the draft Bill by the end of September for it to be reviewed by the select committee on public administration. "You don't use those words without getting clearance. That was the stated position of the Government and the cabinet committee," Mr Clark said.

The Bill has all-party support, but is expected to be omitted from the Queen's Speech on Tuesday, with more work being done on the legislation by the Home Office. A fresh team of civil servants has been given the task of bringing it into effect.