Letter: The Government need not be too free with its information

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The Independent Online
Sir: While I share your view that the Freedom of Information Act is nothing of the kind, ("Is this freedom of information?", 2 February), and that the Government is not entitled to pat itself on the back, I do not share your outrage.

I think you greatly underestimate the difficulty busy people have in finding extra time to deal with this great volume of requests (362 on the first day, you report). Which of their important duties do you suggest they neglect in order to satisfy your own wish to know more about 70 different subjects? We should wait until the volume of requests settles down before making a judgment.

As for the refusals to supply information, I think some of those highlighted on your front page are reasonable enough. Why on earth should the Department of Education and Skills be expected to know how many primary schools had outside lavatories? I would not wish them to compile and maintain records of such a thing, which is clearly a matter for local authorities.

And why should the Department of Culture, Media and Sport release the minutes of meetings with executives of gaming companies? If people cannot talk to a government department in confidence that department will find that nobody is willing to talk to it and it has no access to information it needs to do its job. Alternatively, of course, the really important stuff will never be committed to paper, either in minutes or in correspondence.

On the refusal to disclose the legal advice given on the invasion of Iraq, there are two things to be said. First, in my experience it is never any use looking at a legal opinion unless you look also at the request for that opinion. Legal opinions rest on the facts supplied to the person giving them, and until we know what "facts" were supplied to the Attorney- General we cannot know whether his opinion is worth the paper it is written on.

Secondly, most of us believe that the Government's determination to refuse access to it reflects the fact that the opinion was something less than conclusive - in other words, that just as Blair misread and misrepresented the 45-minute claim, so he misread and misrepresented the legal advice. By persisting in its refusal the Government confirms our suspicions. We need no more.


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