Neill attacks FOI bill failings

15 Jun 00
Lord Neill, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, launched a swingeing attack on the government's Freedom of Information Bill at the CIPFA conference in Brighton on June 14.

16 June 2000

'There are a range of exclusions being proposed in the Freedom of Information Bill,' Neill complained. 'My own view is that it will block off a great deal of information from public scrutiny.'

The bill would do little to combat public cynicism about politicians and politics, he warned.

Speaking at the opening summit of the conference, Neill told delegates that a high profile drive to raise openness and ethical standards is needed to tackle the 'grave sickness' afflicting political life.

He said: 'The cynicism must be playing a considerable part in expanding the deplorably low turnout in recent local and European elections.

'Great battles have been fought to widen the franchise but now the fruits of this victory seem to lay on the side table partially uneaten.'

Neill also raised concern that the proposed FOI legislation will prevent ministers from keeping records of approaches from lobbyists, as the committee has suggested.

'Information given in confidence and information relating to future government policy is excluded, which means that almost any lobbying approach will fall foul of it,' he said.

Neill said his committee's forthcoming study of the House of Lords had not been 'universally popular'. But he would not be deterred by opposition.

He said: 'We will look at whether they need a mandatory register of interests. Some people have said we should, in effect, get off their patch. But we are starting next week.'

Speaking on the day that the committee's annual report was published, Neill outlined some of the proposals the committee had put forward in the past year.

These include placing a legal limit on the number of publicly funded special advisers in government, stronger guidance to ensure that sponsorship of government projects does not compromise integrity, and the speedy introduction of an Act safeguarding the impartial role of the civil service. This, Neill said, he was still waiting for, like a 'Godot figure'.


Did you enjoy this article?