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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Rise of the shredder

The rise of increased transparency in public life does not suit everybody as is evident from this item in the Sunday Times. The paper tells us that some of Tony Blair’s expenses claims, which the High Court last week ruled should be disclosed to the public, have been shredded. The documents, itemising Blair’s claims for household expenses during a year of his premiership, were destroyed in the midst of a legal battle over whether they should be published.

As is pointed out it is a criminal offence to destroy documents to prevent their disclosure under freedom of information laws, but Westminster officials say they were unaware that the files were the subject of a legal challenge. They insist they were destroyed by mistake.

There is another issue here as well of course. My understanding, which may well be wrong, is that the Inland Revenue requires that documentation relating to expenses are kept for a proscribed period of time before the record-keeper is allowed to dispose of them. Was this taken into account in the decision to shred these documents?

Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker is absolutely right when he says that it is very convenient that some of Tony Blair’s expenses have been shredded. He adds: "This is either incompetence or obstruction of the Freedom of Information Act and should be properly investigated.”

While we are at it, we could do with an proper explanation as to how the Commons authorities are able to justify the expenditure of £150,000 of public money in preventing this disclosure in the first place. There really does need to be better accountability here.
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