Thursday, December 28, 2006

"Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit"

posted by k

The Freedom of Information laws are up for amendment.

PJC Journal adds comments and offers links to the consultation document.

As usual, amendments mean further restrictions. As usual, the new regulations won't be published yet.

PJC Journal suggests amendments will be introduced by Statutory Instrument. This means that MPs will not debate changes routinely but will have to read the regulations, raise questions and object. The schedule PJC Journal suggests - and the government won't confirm this - is as follows:

19th March - new regulations laid before parliament
29th March - parliamentary recess begins
17th April - new regulations come into force

That gives MPs ten days to read the government's amendments, compare them with the original Act, think them through and lodge objections. It's not long and MPs will be tired and busy at the end of a parliamentary term.

Statutory Instruments smuggle new legislation into force, without parliamentary debate or public discussion.
MPs have to be very alert to notice what powers are being enacted when so many papers are placed before them. The recent Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill was an attempt to extend ministers' powers to bypass parliament in this way. Fortunately the "Save Parliament" campaign mobilised public opposition and the scope of the Act was limited.

This time the new legislation will affect our right to know what is going on.

Laying the new regulations before parliament ten days before the recess begins suggests a plan to stifle effective debate and opposition.

The New Labour government campaigned for election in 1997 with the promise of a Freedom of Information Act. Then New Labour linked Freedom of Information to Human Rights. New Labour's commitment to both has dwindled. The government that promised "the prmotion of human rights" as "a central part of our foreign policy" told lies to promote war and defended torture overseas as a valuable source of evidence.

This government depends on lies. This government values the words of torture victims who confess to anything and incriminate anyone - so long as the pain will end.

This government is dishonest in big matters. We should not trust it on anything.

The government already tries to evade questions posed under Freedom of Information. The Foreign Office has claimed exemption for 70% of all questions posed. The Department of Constitutional Affairs has given full answers to only 39% of requests for information.

Today's Independent newspaper gives much more information and lists some of the questions which went unanswered. These include:

Can we see Home Office reports on the impact of its plans for compulsory ID cards?

Disclosure would harm the formulation and development of government policy.

Would you tell us a little more about the sweater given to George Bush by Tony Blair?

This information is not in the public interest.

Please disclose all papers concerning the role of the British Government in the arrest and continued detention of the UK residents in Guantanamo Bay.

These documents are covered by privilege and would be exempt because of national security and harm to international relations.

Can we see the documents relating to the policy discussions for the future funding of Britain's schools?

Although this information may be innocuous it could inhibit the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.

Please give us information about the cases referred to the secretive unit, known as the 'clearing house', which fields tricky or potentially embarrassing questions made under the terms of the Freedom of Information Act?

Such information would prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs.

Some questions may be trivial. Others are vitally important. Without answers, we cannot know which are which.

The government suggests Freedom of Information is too expensive. It argues that questions may be asked for frivolous reasons.

Citizens need knowledge to play their part in democracy. Tyrants restrict knowledge and promote ignorance. Tyrants prefer subjects to citizens.


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