Yorkshire Post – 24 December 2004
If a hollow ring now resounds from many of the undertakings made by New Labour when it wooed the voters prior to the 1997 election, its commitment to open government by enshrining freedom of information within the nation's legal framework produces the dull sound of a cracked vessel.
Having gained power, it did not rush to bring in the necessary legislation, being content to wait until 2000 before putting a Freedom of Information Bill before Parliament; and when the Bill became law, five years were to lapse before Government departments would be required to implement its provisions.
The excuse given at the time was that it would take that long for them to adapt their procedures and make the necessary preparations. No-one mentioned that these preparations would include the shredding of thousands upon thousands of documents which the Act would make accessible to public scrutiny were they to survive.
No-one, it is safe to assume, would ever have mentioned it at all. Indeed, it is only thanks to the vigilance – and possibly the suspicions – of Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Julian Lewis that a frenzy of shredding has come to light.
A more cynical episode is hard to imagine, for not only does it expose institutional contempt for the principle of open government, but an intention to deceive. And what other interpretation can be put upon it, for here is an administration wedded to secrecy and back-room deals doing its damnedest to thwart a measure which it had promoted as ending that very culture?
The whole purpose of the Act was to throw open the door so that anyone should see the machinery of government at work, but that door is effectively being slammed shut.
Mr Lewis has called for an investigation by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, and the sooner he begins it, the better.