Straw slaps ban on Iraq debate docs
Why appeal when you can veto?
When the government decided not to appeal the Information Tribunal's order to release Cabinet minutes related to the invasion of Iraq it seemed like a victory for open, transparent government. It wasn't.
Instead of making a legal appeal against the decision Jack Straw has opted to simply veto the decision.
Justice Minister Jack Straw issued a certificate under section 53 of the Freedom of Information Act.
Straw said: "The effect of my certificate is that the disputed information - these Cabinet Minutes relating to Iraq - will not be disclosed."
"The conclusion I have reached has rested on the assessment of the public interest in disclosure and in non-disclosure of these Cabinet minutes. I have placed a copy of that certificate, and a detailed statement of the reasons for my decision in the Libraries of both Houses. I have also published today the criteria against which I decided to exercise the veto in this case."
In a closely argued decision the ICO originally ruled in favour of releasing the minutes of Cabinet discussions on the invasion of Iraq despite opposing arguments that Cabinet collective responsibility would be damaged by such a move. Collective responsibility is the convention that after open argument within Cabinet all members then publicly support the joint decision.
The ICO said it supported collective responsibility and appreciated the importance of free debate within Cabinet but that these considerations were outweighed by the public interest because of: "The gravity and controversial nature of the subject matter, Accountability of government decisions, Transparency of decision making, Public participation in government decisions."
Straw said he did not accept the rationale that the momentous nature of the decision increased the strength of arguments in favour of disclosing the documents.
For his part the increasingly irrelevant Information Commissioner Richard Thomassaid anything other than exceptional use of the veto powers would "undermine much of the progress made towards greater openess and transparency in government since the FOI Act came into force." Thomas said he would look at Straw's decision and put a report before Parliament.
The ICO decision was upheld by the first line of appeal - the Information Tribunal which said the minutes should be released albeit with some information redacted.®
"Terrible threat to public order, having people wandering down to the polling stations - imagine if they voted for the wrong party ."
What party would that be, then - is there a real political party in Britain? Would Cameron be any different from Bliar? Who else is there to vote for?
Mine has a one-way airline ticket abroad in the pocket -where's the nearest democracy?
>and this is a shining example of democracy is it?
I take it that you're one of our liberated distant cousins, in particular of the Amercan variety, as such you need to learn about a wonderful thing we have in England called sarcasm.
JFK on Secrecy
Never a more pertinent reference can I think of than JFK's Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association (27 April 1961)
Watch the full video on You Tube
"The very word "secrecy" is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings.
We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.
Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it.
And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it is in my control.
And no official of my Administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know."