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Friday, October 30, 2015

Will Tories move to restrict Freedom of Information access?

The Leader of the House of Commons, Chris Grayling spectacularly misses the point once more in today's Independent when he accuses journalists of “misusing” Freedom of Information laws to “generate” stories.

Apparently, Mr. Grayling believes that it is improper to use the Act as a “research tool” but believes that it is most appropriately used by “those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions”. Personally, I am not sure what the difference is.

The paper says that during the business question in the Commons, Mr Grayling said: “The truth is the Freedom of Information Act is something this Government is committed to but we want to make sure it works well and fairly, it cannot be abused, it cannot be misused.

“It is on occasions misused by those who use it effectively as a research tool to generate stories for the media. That isn’t acceptable. It is a legitimate and important tool for those who want to understand why and how the Government is taking decisions and it is not the intention of this Government to change that.”

The point surely is that information is news, however it is obtained. But without access to that information and without the media using it to focus attention on government policies then our democratic process will become poorer. That is because good government is achieved through active scrutiny, irrespective of who is doing the scrutinising.

It just so happens that the UK media is very good at that sort of scrutiny. This is an inconvenient truth the Tories want to bury. As Labour MP, Tom Watson says:  “Without the Act, the death rates of individual cardiac surgeons would not have been published by the NHS, we would not have learned that the police use Tasers on children and the existence of cracks in the nuclear power station at Hinckley would have stayed hidden.”

Does Chris Grayling really want to allow those sort of problems to remain hidden? Is that the Tories' hidden agenda? We await to see what proposals they bring forward.
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