Leading article: A new era of openness? Hardly

Share

Members of Parliament should be natural champions of the Freedom of Information Act. These men and women, who are directly accountable to the electorate, ought to be active guardians of the Act's powers. But, sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

Last year, the Commons tried to resist a request, brought under the Act, that MPs should make all the details of their travel expenses public. The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, ruled that there was no legitimate reason why such information should not be in the public domain. But MPs fought on, challenging Mr Thomas' ruling at a tribunal.

Although they eventually lost, MPs' resistance to the Act, in as far as it applies to them, continues. In Parliament today, a private member's Bill proposed by the former Conservative chief whip, David Maclean, comes under scrutiny. The Bill aims to prevent MPs' letters, written on behalf of constituents, from being released to the press and public under the Act.

Its supporters argue it is necessary to protect their constituents' right to privacy. But constituents' personal details are already protected under the Act. The more plausible explanation is that the Act, as it stands, has the potential to embarrass MPs by exposing their shortcomings. We shall have to wait to see how much support this Bill commands in the Commons, but evidence is mounting that a considerable number of MPs feel that the Act should not apply to them.

The Act is under threat on another flank, too. Ministers are attempting to impose a more stringent financial limit on requests, and proposing that a series of requests from the same organisation, such as a newspaper, should in future be considered as one. All this has one obvious purpose: to make it easier for public bodies to refuse information. According to the Government's figures an extra 17,000 requests would be turned down as a result of these new regulations.

The new era of openness we were promised when the Act was passed two years ago has failed to materialise. Half of all requests to central Government departments are being turned down and 10 per cent are answered late. The Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee argued last year that some public bodies are breaking the spirit of the law by tying up requests in red tape. It also found that the Information Commissioner was failing to rule on appeals quickly enough. It seems the Government has not given Mr Thomas the resources he needs to do his job properly.

It is clear that the Act needs to be strengthened considerably. The shameful reality is that our MPs and ministers seem intent on watering it down.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously

Illnesses, car crashes and suicides

Dozens of politicians, bureaucrats and businessmen linked to Indian bribery scandal die mysteriously
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Wimbledon 2015: Team Murray firing on all cylinders for SW19 title assault

Team Murray firing on all cylinders for title assault

Coaches Amélie Mauresmo and Jonas Bjorkman aiming to make Scot Wimbledon champion again
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Vasek Pospisil must ignore tiredness and tell himself: I'm in the quarter-final, baby!
Ashes 2015: Angus Fraser's top 10 moments from previous series'

Angus Fraser's top 10 Ashes moments

He played in five series against Australia and covered more as a newspaper correspondent. From Waugh to Warne and Hick to Headley, here are his highlights
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend