The much-touted Freedom of Information Act (FOI) is supposed to allow for publication of information in response to requests submitted. But as with much legislation there are 'get out' clauses and the preamble to the FOI reads:
"The Freedom of Information Act gives you the right to obtain information held by public authorities unless there are good reasons to keep it confidential."
- the key part of this 'soft soap' is of course the bit that reads:
" ... unless there are good reasons to keep it confidential."
And so we come to the nub of this shocking report, which inadvertantly revealed the motivations behind the way in which a particular FOI request was processed:
Potential issues arising from release of report
The release of the report entails the risk of Transform(*), or other supporters of legislation, using information from the report to criticise the Government's drug policy, or to support their call for the legalisation of drugs and the introduction of a regulated system of supply. These risks should be considered in reaching a decision on whether to release the report, as requested.
- so the clear aim of the Civil Service here is to manipulate the information it releases in order to support the policies of the Government and to thwart legitimate requests for information under the FOI. As Danny Kushlick from Transform (*) is quoted as saying:
"Writing that down is fairly dumb. Sending it to you is even sillier."
- indeed it is, but let us be thankful for this oversight, which has shone a light into the sometimes murky relationship between our Civil Service and our Government. Just because this occurred during the period in office of our just-ousted Labour government, I am not naive enough to believe that a Conservative or a ConLib government would not try to influence our 'neutral' Civil Service in a similar way if it thought it might be advantageous to its policy agenda and if it thought it could keep this secret.
Please note that my reaction to this scandal has nothing whatsoever to do with whatever I may think of the views of Transform (*) with regard to drugs policy, it has everything to do with the obviously-flawed impartiality/objectivity of our Civil Service when dealing with FOI requests.
(*) Transform is the organisation which submitted this particular FOI request.