Whitehall fights shy of openness

A CONSERVATIVE promise to repeal dozens of secrecy clauses in Acts of Parliament is floundering after concerted Whitehall resistance.

Officials have identified around 250 laws that give powers of secrecy, but government departments have fought a fierce rearguard action to retain powers that allow them to conceal information from the public.

William Waldegrave, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Cabinet minister responsible for the Office of Public Services and Science, launched his drive for open government in May. It was expected to take two months. He intended to force departments to release information unless there were compelling grounds for not doing so. Health and safety reports and the findings of pharmaceutical inspectors were thought likely to be made public through the exercise.

But next year, instead of listing dozens of clauses to be repealed, his department will publish a White Paper citing all legislation with secrecy provisions and discussing 'solutions', possibly including guidance on using discretionary powers to release information.

Mr Waldegrave's allies conceded last week that the process has proved 'longer and more complex' than expected. The minister still believes that some clauses will eventually be repealed, but last week his office was not willing to specify any. It said that there were good reasons for many areas of secrecy.

If the White Paper fails to advocate the repeal of many secrecy clauses, it could undermine his argument that a Freedom of Information Act is unnecessary.

Some Cabinet ministers, notably Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, and Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary, have backed the open government policy, but their contributions have chiefly involved the early release of historical documents.

The surrender of secrecy powers has been much more difficult. The Department of the Environment said last week: 'We are looking very carefully across the range of subjects and it is too soon to say what the outcome will be.' But privately the department is arguing that it already observes an open government policy and is delivering objectives specified under European directives on environmental data. No progress appears to have been made in the Department of Employment, which is responsible for the Health and Safety at Work 1976 Act. Officials in several departments had not even heard of Mr Waldegrave's initiative.

Mr Waldegrave is also facing resistance to tentative proposals to create a government science service to co-ordinate all scientific research conducted for Whitehall departments. Ministers at the Office of Public Services and Science, which would take charge of the new body, argue that it would achieve savings by negotiating contracts on a larger scale.

But departments such as Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture are reluctant to surrender the work to another department.

News
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal
peopleThreats follows actress' speech on feminism and equality at the UN
News
Alan Bennett criticised the lack of fairness in British society encapsulated by the private school system
peopleBut he does like Stewart Lee
Sport
David Moyes and Louis van Gaal
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Arts and Entertainment
Worldwide ticket sales for The Lion King musical surpassed $6.2bn ($3.8bn) this summer
tvMusical is biggest grossing show or film in history
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drink
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

Business Analyst/ Project Manager - Financial Services

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client in the Financial...

Cover Supervisors needed in Cheshire & Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Cover Supervisor...

Welsh Medium Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Primary Tutors needed in Chester

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Primary Tutoring in Cheshire West &amp...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits