Responses from Members of Parliament
Letter from Peter Bradley, Member of Parliament
for The Wrekin
Further to Tony Wright's letter of 16 March,
I enclose copies of my Parliamentary Question to the Foreign Office,
part of the answer to which was blocked.
I also enclose copies of my follow-up correspondence.
The final letter from John Battle followed a meeting I had with
him on the issue at his request.
As you will see, my Question sought factual
information on the official engagements of ministers on overseas
However, officials invoked, in my view quite
inappropriately, the convention which limits the information available
to ministers in answering questions about the conduct of previous
As you will see, I then applied for the same
information under the Code of Practice on Access to Government
Information which resulted two months later (and therefore well
outside the four week target) in an enigmatic response which caused
me to write again.
Finally, I received the letter of 9 March from
the Minister which provided the information which should have
featured in the answer to my PQ in December.
This experience raises a number of questions
in my mind.
Should the protocol on information
about previous administrations bar access to factual information?
Why, if such information is available
under the Code, should it not be more routinely available in answers
to parliamentary questions?
Why, even when I applied under the
Code, was the response to me so deliberately vague?
How can I have confidence, given
my experience in this case, that the information which has finally
been provided is accurate and adequate?
What was the cost in the time taken
by civil servants in denying me access to the information I sought
over a period of three months?
I know from the meeting which I had with the
Minister and his officials that the Foreign Office had originally
taken the advice of the Cabinet Office as to whether the information
I sought should be made available to me.
I must say that I am surprised that the Foreign
Office felt it necessary to seek such advice and even more surprised
that the Cabinet Office recommended that the information should
not be made available. I further understand that the present Permanent
Secretary of the Foreign Office felt it necessary to set out his
own views to the Minister in a six page memorandum.
This is, in my view, a quite extraordinary example
of the prevailing culture within many sectors of the Civil Service
which leads them routinely to withhold rather than to disclose
information. It demonstrates both how important the Freedom of
Information Act will be and also the difficulties involved in
ensuring that civil servants adopt it in both principle and in
I hope that this is helpful to the Committee.
21 March 2000
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