Saturday, December 31, 2005

Those pesky journalists!

Lord "Charlie" Falconer, Secretary of State at the Department for Constitutional Affairs and Speaker of the House of Lords, is having an ominous whine about the UK's recent Freedom of Information Act:

The vast majority of requests under the FoI Act have been for key information about issues, especially local issues, which have a real impact on people's lives. Inevitably, a small minority have not been so responsible. Asking about the number of windows at the Department for Education and Skills, or the amount of money departments spend on toilet paper, diverts energy from answering worthwhile requests.

So we are looking now at the operation of the act to ensure that its central purpose is being honoured. Freedom of information is about giving power to the people, not about declaring open season for the wilder fevers of journalistic wish-lists.

In my own experience of the FOIA, the Home Office is still to answer a request from May. And the government is no doubt embarrassed that MPs have used the act to discover delicious tidbits like Jack Straw arranging a taxpayer-funded tutorial on the Civil Service for his son attended by the Cabinet Secretary, Home Office Permanent Secretary and the Prime Minister's adviser on foreign policy.

In a Pythonesque twist, even the Information Commissioner is resistant to releasing information:

The UK watchdog charged with ensuring that public bodies obey the new Freedom of Information Act already has a huge backlog of appeals that will take years to clear. An even greater surprise is that these figures, along with early decisions, were withheld and were only made public after filing an FOI request.

No comments: