Freedom Of Information: Businesses must disclose what they tell ministers

Secret deals between industry players and politicians have long been part of government business. Now, says Robert Verkaik, Law Editor, they will be subject to scrutiny

The role of lobby groups in influencing government policy by holding private meetings with ministers has long been a bone of contention among those who want to see more transparency in the corridors of Westminster. Unless there is proper disclosure about the comings and goings of corporate bodies and campaign groups to Downing Street and the Palace of Westminister, there will be always a whiff of prejudicial dealing surrounding such meetings.

Those representing vested interests take a very different view, arguing that real business can only be done in conditions of locked-down secrecy. It has taken the introduction of the Freedom of Information Act to settle these two opposing views.

Last week the Information Tribunal ruled in favour of greater disclosure and ordered the Government to release records of meetings between the CBI employers' group and the former Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). The decision, upholding a previous ruling by the Information Commissioner, was a victory for the environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.

Few campaigning organisation have grasped the potential of freedom of information measures as thoroughly as Friends of the Earth. Since the introduction of the legislation three years ago, its legal team has devoted huge resources to considering how the new law can be used to open up government to public scrutiny.

In July 2005, Friends of the Earth requested details of lobbying meetings between the CBI and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that had taken place shortly after the last general election. The information included records of monthly meetings between the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alan Johnson, and the Director General of the CBI, Digby Jones (Lord Jones of Birmingham).

In 2007 the Information Commissioner ordered the DTI to release most of the information requested by Friends of the Earth. However, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) – where Lord Jones is now a minister – appealed to the Information Tribunal to overturn that decision.

In a four-day hearing, the court heard evidence from a number of business lobby groups which supported greater transparency, as well as from a senior BERR civil servant and from John Cridland, Deputy Director General of the CBI.

BERR and the CBI claimed that if records of their lobbying meetings were disclosed, it could prevent such meetings happening in future, which could damage the Government's policy-making. Mr Cridland claimed that if the tribunal ruled in favour of disclosure, lobby meetings might have to take place by the lake in St James's Park with dark glasses and a rolled-up newspaper; and that government might be brought to a standstill.

In a ruling published on 1 May, the tribunal ordered that nearly all of the disputed information must be released because there is a strong public interest in understanding how lobbyists influence government.

The judgment sympathises with the idea of the BERR having a private thinking space for formulating policy, with the aid of external consultants. But it has "more difficulty" applying this to "influencers" such as the CBI, which wear two hats – as lobbyists and providers of neutral information.

r.verkaik@independent.co.uk

News
i100
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices