Letter: Blair's case for open government

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The Independent Online
Sir: The contents of the Queen's speech, to be settled on Thursday, will be subject to many competing claims. But among the strongest should be a Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, incorporating whistleblower protection. The case for it was put most emphatically by Tony Blair, speaking at the Campaign for Freedom of Information's annual awards in March 1996, when he described the legislation as "not some isolated constitutional reform" but a "change that is absolutely fundamental to how we see politics developing in this country". He added:

The crucial question is does the Government regard people's involvement in politics as being restricted to periodic elections? Or, does it regard itself as in some sense in a genuine partnership with people?...

I don't believe that [an FOI Act's] impact would simply be in the pure matter of legislation ... It would also signal a culture change that would make a dramatic difference to the way that Britain is governed. The very fact of its introduction will signal a new relationship between government and people: a relationship which sees the public as legitimate stakeholders in the running of the country and sees election to serve the public as being given on trust ...

There is so much disaffection from politics, so much disillusion with it, and one of ... the reasons is that we live in a modern and a far better educated and far more open and far more assertive democracy and country and it's good that people feel in that way. The irony is that the system of government is about 50, 60, 70 years behind the actual feelings and sentiments of the broad majority of people. A Freedom of Information Act is not just important in itself. It is part of bringing our politics up to date, of letting politics catch up with the aspirations of people and delivering not just more open but more effective and efficient government for the future.

The case for immediate legislation could not be better put.

MAURICE FRANKEL

Director

The Campaign for

Freedom of Information

London EC1

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