Government’s FoI commission ‘a rigged jury’, says Lib Dem peer

Lord McNally said of the FoI commission: ‘Somebody has a sense of humour’ [Image: Ian Nicholson/PA Archive/Press Association Ima].

Liberal Democrats are falling over themselves to tell us things they did in the Coalition Government that we never knew before.

Do we believe them? Perhaps that’s a matter for each of us to decide for ourselves.

On Freedom of Information, This Writer doesn’t think we need the Liberal Democrats to tell us the Conservative Government’s review is a phony.

The intention has been clearly set out – to rule that the FoI Act, as it currently stands, allows too much information to fall into public hands.

But without the FoI Act, we would not have discovered the extent to which MPs were creatively expanding their expenses claims, with public money being spent on anything from duckhouses and moats to new kitchens. It seems likely that Parliamentarians might still be unhappy about the restrictions imposed after this was revealed, and may not be the best people to review the Act in such circumstances.

Without the FoI Act, This Writer would not have been able to force the DWP into admitting the extent to which sickness benefit claimants have been dying under its draconian rules. Even then, I had to fight hard for the full request to be honoured. When it was, we discovered that the suspension of repeat work capability assessments had led to a fall in the number of deaths.

Without the FoI Act, we would not know that Cyril Smith tried to bully police who were investigating claims that he molested young boys.

Without FoI, we would not know that Lord Janner visited Parliament, months after police were told he was too ill (with dementia) to be questioned about child abuse allegations against him.

Taking these facts into consideration, it seems clear:

The Conservative Government’s review is less about ensuring fairness and more about hiding corruption.

A former Liberal Democrat minister has described the government commission set up to review the Freedom of Information Act as a “rigged jury”.

Giving evidence to the alternative FoI review set up by Labour deputy leader Tom Watson, Lib Dem peer Lord McNally said he had fought previous attempts by the Conservatives and civil servants to undermine the act while serving as minster of justice during the last parliament. He said the timing of the new review suggested the government felt it could now challenge the act.

“What worries me is that under the coalition the Conservatives knew they couldn’t get rid of the FoI [and] within weeks of having a majority they set up this commission, with this membership … All I can say is somebody has a sense of humour … Talk about a rigged jury.”

Former home secretary Jack Straw, who has previously said he wants the act to be restricted, and McNally’s fellow Lib Dem peer Lord Carlisle who accused the Guardian of a “criminal act” in publishing the Edward Snowden leaks, are both on the commission. McNally is due to give evidence to the commission, led by former civil servant Lord Burns, on Wednesday.

McNally, who is a former leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords, also voiced concerns that outsourcing of public services was putting more information outside the public domain and said suggestions FoI had a chilling effect on advice give to ministers was a “myth”.

Source: Government’s FoI commission ‘a rigged jury’, says Lib Dem peer | Media | The Guardian

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