The Government’s decision to launch a review of the Freedom of Information Act was widely condemned when it was announced back in July as likely to lead to “more secrecy, more mistakes and bad decisions”. It is effectively a review by government officials that provides the excuse to water down current transparency laws to create a charter for cover-ups and sees a return to an era of secrecy.
The unexpected move to set up a review of the law emerged just hours after a FoI request revealed how British pilots were involved in Syrian air strikes — a fact the Prime Minister and other high ranking officials had kept from the public.
Scepticism has grown that it will be biased, given that one of the commissioners, former Labour Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, is an outspoken critic of how the Act is enforced. After all, it was the freedom of information allowed in the UK, not just the act itself that saw Jack Straw miss out on a peerage recently because he was under investigation over cash-for-access claims.
Tony Blair, who introduced the Act, later described it as one of his “biggest regrets”. Of course he would say that given what the act has done.
Labour’s deputy leader MP Tom Watson said: “It is quite clear this isn’t a review, it’s a process to roll back the Freedom of Information Act. This is an Act which should be extended to cover more public bodies, yet the Government is going to weaken it by making changes that will render it virtually useless for people who believe in greater accountability.”
David Banisar of Article 19, a human rights organisation that champions freedom of information, criticised the move. “The Government’s proposals will lead to more secrecy, less accountability, and a more insular and unresponsive Government. It is moving the law from the right to know to the right to no information.”