We have the right to know

PUBLISHED: 11:57 01 February 2007 | UPDATED: 14:59 12 May 2010

Lord Falconer

Lord Falconer

SOME time this month the Government seems likely to change parts of the Freedom of Information Act. And there is every likelihood that this will be done with a ministerial statement from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, rather than a debate in Parliame

SOME time this month the Government seems likely to change parts of the Freedom of Information Act.

And there is every likelihood that this will be done with a ministerial statement from the Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, rather than a debate in Parliament.

There are two mistakes here.

First, the Government is more or less conceding that people are actually using the Act, and, second, the democratic right to actually discuss changes to the law of the land are being denied.

The Act took more that a decade of campaigning to be introduced and has been used in a sensible way to uncover secrets in the corridors of power.

It not just a question of disclosing the workings of Government, but has meant that local councils, NHS health trusts and the police have come under scrutiny.

And there is nothing wrong with that.

After all, it's exactly what the Act was designed to do.

And it has not just been the Press that has been raising questions: some controversial and others embarrassing. The public has played its role, too, in its quest to uncover the truth.

It is all a question of openness and transparency which now we have the Act should not be denied.

But Government thinking now seems to be that too much is being deposited in the public domain and one way to prevent an avalanche of information is to make the process more expensive.

It means that instead of being able to pose a series of questions on separate occasions these will be viewed as one inquiry and will be "billed" against the time taken to answer the inquiries.

The expense of raising questions may well make people think twice about using the Act.

Maybe that's the idea.

But it's totally wrong and although the workings of the Act may need a review this approach is a mistake.

It will lead, says the Government's own independent review, into more than 17,000 questions a year being rejected purely on the grounds of costs rather than the need of public interest.

The proposed changes have been described as a "complete disgrace".

The Act is there to unearth details that others would prefer to see remain hidden.

And we have the right to know.

A question of respect

A LOT of time and our money is being spent by police in Herts on an inquiry in the controversy surrounding Big Brother.

As we are aware, there have been claims of racism and racist remarks being made during the series.

It may do a lot for ratings, but even contestants on a reality show deserve the same respect as is expected by us all.

The outcome of the police inquiry will be interesting.

If there is a case to answer then it will send out the right and proper message that racism of any kind should not be tolerated.

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