Ministers have slashed the amount of information they allow the public to know, a report has revealed.
It showed that a string of Whitehall departments have tightened the secrecy surrounding their activities despite Tony Blair's promise that Labour would bring an era of open government.
Among ministers whose civil servants are now refusing to answer more than half of all the questions put by the public under Labour's Freedom of Information Act are Home Secretary John Reid, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, andTrade Secretary Alistair Darling.
Even Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer - the minister in charge of the freedom of information system that Mr Blair once boasted would bring 'a dramatic difference to the way Britain is governed' - has given answers to fewer than four out of ten requests for information.
The cutback in what Whitehall allows the public to find out comes in advance of Lord Falconer's planned new restrictions on freedom of information law.
These would prevent MPs, lobby groups or journalists from putting more than one request in every three months, and which would also greatly increase the number of requests turned down on the grounds that they would cost too much in bureaucrats' time.
Critics say the effect of Lord Falconer's new rules will be to ensure that the only people who would be allowed to get information out of Whitehall would be those who do not ask for it.
But details of the requests already turned down even before Lord Falconer can bring in his new rules show that information released has been cut back by many ministries.
The report from the Department for Constitutional Affairs showed that Lord Falconer's own office gave full answers in response to only 39 per cent of requests that might have been answered in the three months between July and September.
The 39 per cent compared with 40 per cent in the last three months of 2005.
Mrs Beckett's Foreign Office answered only 30 per cent of requests, compared with 33 per cent at the end of last year. Mr Reid's Home Office answered 40 per cent, up from 38 per cent at the end of last year but down from 49 per cent in the early part of this year.
The Northern Ireland Office answered 47 per cent compared with 71 per cent at the end of 2005.
Across all Government departments, 60 per cent of requests are now being met, a fall of two per cent on six months earlier.
Of nearly 63,000 Freedom of Information requests made since the law came into force two years ago, more than 26,000 have been answered only with silence.
The figures come as ministers prove reluctant to part with information while in Government that they said should be public when they were in opposition.
Mr Blair declared in March 1996 that "we want to end the obsessive and unnecessary secrecy which surround Government activity and make Government information available to the public unless there are good reasons not to do so."
But the Government has refused, for example, to release early drafts of the advice provided to Mr Blair by Attorney General Lord Goldsmith on the legality of the war with Iraq.
It has declined to give new details of Tony and Cherie Blair's guests at Chequers since the couple were embarrassed by publication in 2004 of names of people they had officially entertained.
Tories said that ministers were trying to shut the public out. Shadow Constitutional Affairs Secretary Oliver Heald said: "I fear that the Government may be attempting to close down public scrutiny by curtailing the public's right to know with this more restrictive regime."
Ministers accused of undermining FOI laws as 30 per cent of requests rebuffed | News | This is London
By David Rose
Tuesday, 20 February 2007
An MP has pledged to lead a Commons revolt over a controversial attempt to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act.
A private members bill, introduced by former Tory chief whip David Maclean, would, if it becomes law, prevent journalists and others from using FoI requests to obtain information contained in MPs' correspondence with government departments and other public bodies.
But Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, has vowed to oppose the bill when it comes before the Commons for its crucial Report Stage and Third Reading on 20 April.
Maclean's Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill has already been given an unopposed Second Reading and has been approved by 19-member committee drawn from MPs in all parties.
Opponents can attempt to block Private Members Bills at the Report Stage using filibustering tactics. To prevent Baker and other critics from talking out the two-clause bill, Maclean may be forced to muster 100 MPs in order to force a closure vote and secure the Commons' approval to be sent to the House of Lords.
Maclean has been impressed by the amount of support he has secured. Among the MPs who spoke up for the Bill in committee were Labour MPs George Howarth (Knowsley North and Sefton) Kevan Jones, (North Durham) and Fraser Kemp (Houghton and Washington East).
Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey (North Devon) also raised no objection.
Harvey, chairman of the House of Commons Commission, told MPs: "Requests under the FoI Act are becoming increasingly intrusive, particularly on issues such as t he additional costs allowance. In that respect, they are getting into very personal realms - they are going behind the front door into Members' homes."
While the Government insists the Bill must be decided on a free vote, Tony Wright, Labour chairman of the Commons Public Administration Committee, has accused the whips of collaborating to ensure the Bill gets approved.
Constitutional Affairs minister Bridget Prentice has also indicated where her own sympathies lie.
"We should not allow the 2000 Act to disrupt the vital relationship between and MP and his or her constituents, and the time has come to address the issue," she told MPs.
Baker told Press Gazette: "The Government is backtracking on the FoI Act.
"This is a throw back to the 1950s when Parliament was a private members' club.
"If this is passed we will have the absurd position of exempting from the legislation those people who passed the law."
Baker recently won a case before the Information Tribunal which forced the disclosure of more details of MPs' travel expenses.
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