Maurice Frankel: An important blow has been struck for freedom of information

Podium

Share
Related Topics

Almost unnoticed, the Freedom of Information Act was last week spared a potentially devastating blow.

The Government had been proposing to create a new FOI exemption, blocking access to cabinet materials less than 20 years old. This was to have been included in a package, which the Commons votes on today, which also requires old government files to be released after 20 instead of 30 years.

The exemption would have carved out a black hole at the heart of the FOI Act. The chances of obtaining cabinet or cabinet committee minutes are already slim. A ministerial veto has twice been used to block their release. But the proposed exemption would also have applied to papers circulated to any cabinet committee.

Ministers wanting to keep their secrets safe could flash them in front of a cabinet committee, instantly prohibiting public access for 20 years. A new top layer of secrecy beyond the Act's reach would have been created.

The order to drop this damaging exemption appears to have come directly from the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. And not for the first time. A similar Brown intervention on behalf of the Act occurred in 2007 after the Blair administration attempted to make it easier for authorities to refuse FOI requests.

Mr Brown had faced a storm of criticism after the FOI release of Treasury papers on pension tax credits. Yet one of his first decisions as Prime Minister was to quash the proposed restrictions.

The new 20-year rule, which will be phased in, represents a strengthening of the FOI regime, allowing old official records to appear while people can still recall the events concerned.

There will also be one less welcome step. The Royal Family's communications with government will be excluded from the Act for 20 years, and then until five years after the death of the individual concerned.

The main aim appears to be to protect Prince Charles's correspondence with ministers. None has yet been disclosed, but currently it could be – rightly so – if the Prince's intervention seriously affects a minister's decision. That door regretfully may now be closed.

Maurice Frankel is director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information

www.cfoi.org.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all