back to article Cabinet Secretary: Freedom of Info law stifles policy confabs

Sir Gus O'Donnell told a committee of MPs on Wednesday that FOI laws had a "very negative impact on the freedom of policy discussions". "The problem with the Freedom of Information Act is that virtually everything is subject to a public interest test," Sir Gus told the Public Administration Select Committee. "When I give …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He is forgetting who he works for, we have a right to know how our employees do their job and that includes all the crazy, scary stuff they come up with behind closed doors.

  2. Captain Underpants

    Heh, it's funny how is so keen on ever-increasing surveillance of the plebeian masses but when it comes to a (relatively innocuous) piece of legislation that applies the same principle to those elected to serve, suddenly such surveillance is about as popular as diarrhoea in a spacesuit.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    He's heard of it, wants nothing to do with it. Newfangled rubbish, away with it!

  4. Jim 59


    Any individual, worldwide, can request to see the minutes of Cabinet meetings ? Heavy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      why not?

      After all - if they have nothing to hide then they have nothing to fear *grin*

    2. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      I agree that this is a bit over the top.

      If you limit it to people who actually pay for public services (e.g. through their taxes), I think that is enough. However I think that access to cabinet meetings is not necessarily unreasonable.

  5. Arrrggghh-otron

    Boo fucking hoo...

    They do work for us and on our behalf right? Then anything they discuss in pursuit of that aim, that doesn't put lives in jeopardy should be a matter of public record.

  6. Giles Jones Gold badge

    Double standards.

    Don't the snooping advocates always say that there's no problem with intercepting information on citizens unless you have something to hide?

    So by the same measure if government agencies are allowed to snoop on us to make sure we're not misbehaving how come the government seems to have a problem with us doing the same?

    I'm sure their objection is that they don't want cosy deals with business exposed and they're still rather annoyed about the new expenses regime.

  7. Atonnis


    ...if you're in government - whether it be at the political end or the civil service end - if you have an approach/opinion/method/topic that potentially affects the lives of millions of citizens you'd better have a stance and the gumption to stand by it...and have it stand up to public scrutiny.

    It is true that the press is the worst culprit where it comes to 'could be's, 'may be's and deliberately focusing on one phrase out of a paragraph in order to fuel an agenda - but that can be approached separately. You don't close off FoI - you adjust the laws so that a statement cannot be deliberately made to look other than it is when posted in the press under a misrepresentation clause - and ensure that protection-of-stance is only valid when someone in government actually takes a position on a topic.

    The mealy-mouthed tangent-swinging equivocation of so many in government should not be protected, though.

  8. Lockwood

    "How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?"

    "Sorry, I cannot talk about that."

  9. Mike Street


    I remember a BBC radio programme about Sweden a few years ago. The Swedish PM - Persson - showed them a letter sent to him by Tony Blair, then British PM. It didn't say anything controversial, but it was required by Swedish law to be available to everyone.

    The same letter was unavailable to be shown to a British journalist (or anyone else) in the UK. So they would have to go to Stockholm to see a letter written in the UK by the UK Prime Minister on behalf of the UK Government and its citizens.

    Politicians and Civil Servants have had it too easy, too long, and they don't like to come under scrutiny at all.

    What, do we suppose, do they have to hide?

  10. Alfred 2

    I don't remember this lot ...

    ... voting agianst the Act when they were in opposition.

    In fact Eve Atkins used to put (badly written) FOI requests in regularly to the NHS. The NHS time she wasted with her gibberish would be impossible to calculate, but a colleague calcluated that she had cost the NHS over £2m in one year.

    Now the damned hypocrites want to exempt themselves from the act.

    There is an easy way to do that.


    1. druck

      Don't let the fact the Sir Gus O'Donnell is a civil servant, not an MP, get in the way of your rant.

      1. Intractable Potsherd
        Thumb Down


        Civil servants can resign too, you know!

  11. Richard Fletcher

    Freedom of information law should change

    Sorry, but he has a point. If people in government want to ask stupid questions and pose stupid ideas in the interest of becoming better educated about a topic, or if they just want to blow off some steam, they should be able to do that without it becoming a subject of an FIO request.

    The truth is that discussions have moved away from the appropriate channels, in front of advisors, and minute takers, to sofas, weekend retreats or breakfast tables because of FOI. The post-it note government of the US and UK is not an efficient way of running a country.

    Having cabinet meetings where ministers fear speaking their mind does no-one any good. And like I say above, those views will still get expressed in more private settings, so we don't lose anything by relaxing the laws.

    The assumption of the the pro-FOI lobby is that we will be able to learn things that the powers that be don't want us to know, and that is just plain wrong, and while it may be true for somethings, there is a class of data that under FOI just will not be written in the first place.

    So long as we have controls to discover and deal with corruption we will all vote based on the big three issues come each election anyway, the Economy, Education and the NHS.

    1. Lockwood

      The three E's?

      Economy, Education, 'Ealth

  12. Intractable Potsherd

    Errrmmmm ...

    "I cannot guarantee to Cabinet Ministers that they can actually say ... if they disagree with something that that information will remain private". I don't understand why a Cabinet Minister *should* want it to remain private (i.e. secret from the public they are supposed to serve) that they disagree with something. What possible harm can it do compared to seeming to agree with something that later turns out to be utter rubbish? Is this more a case of worrying that their "friends in government" might discover that there is someone that doesn't go along with their latest insane plan?

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