Many commentators have expressed surprise that the government’s Freedom of Information Commission has proposed no significant changes to the Freedom of Information Act, the law that allows any member of the public to request information from the government or a public body, thereby ensuring openness and transparency. Also a surprise is that the government have accepted the Commission’s report, so there will be no big changes, and no charges introduced for FOI requests.
When the Commission was announced, many people thought it was a stitch-up, a typical cynical government attempt to make unpopular changes, but to lay the blame on an independent panel of advisors. How wrong they were. In fact, the Commission appears to have been a model of how this sort of thing should work. A report that a law is working well, with just a few minor suggestions, and the government accepting the report’s findings.
Tony Blair has described himself as a “naive, foolish, irresponsible nincompoop” for introducing the law, saying: “There is really no description of stupidity, no matter how vivid, that is adequate. I quake at the imbecility of it.” Mr Blair is widely regarded to have made quite a few bad decisions during his time in office; however, Freedom of Information has to be one of his best achievements. The fact that he now fails to recognise that only goes to show that he has indeed turned into something of a nutter since leaving office, and in this instance it has nothing to do with his religious views.
Let’s give credit where it’s due. The government could have changed the FOI Act to allow them to hide uncomfortable truths, but has instead chosen to abide by the findings of an independent commission. For once, this is the way government should work.