Thursday, February 10, 2005

Black Wednesday and ERM

The release and debate around the release of documents relating to Black Wednesday and ERM certainly gave FOI its bigget media profile so far this year. The story was the main feature on many bulletins, including the Ten O'Clock News. There was also a feature on the digital news extra feature.

The day started with BBC publishing documents they had been accidently sent showing the internal debate over the releases at the Treasury. Later in the day the documents were released onto the Treasury website, with some differences to the suggested releases earlier published by the BBC. Since then the row has errupted that Labour has used FOI has political tool to attach the Conservatives. This seems hard to understand, as the request came from the FT and had to be released within the 20 day limit.

However the issues that will be important related to this story may relate to future requests for more recent Treasury papers covers issues such as internal calculations relating to the entry into the Euro or growth forecasts if a precedent has been set.

News in the Telegraph this morning an an article entitled Falconer offers ex-ministers right of appeal on Freedom Act:
"In an attempt to lower the political temperature, he has written to Michael Howard, the Conservative leader, this week proposing the introduction of a protocol for the publication of papers relating to previous administrations.Under the guidelines, former Tory ministers would be contacted as soon as a request for documents involving them was received. They would then be sent the papers and given five days to ask the Attorney General - a semi-independent law officer - to block publication. If a decision was taken to release the documents against their wishes, they would also be able to appeal a second time to the Attorney General restating their concerns."

It is unclear how this will work in practice, whether this will be merely guidance or will the Act be ammended, will this consultation period extend requests over 20 days - why the Attorney General and not the Information Commissioner?

In a further article in the Telegraph: Rules on data 'make governing impossible':"The new Freedom of Information regime is making good government "impossible", a senior minister claimed last night."It's a complete bloody shambles," the minister told The Telegraph privately.

Further media stories: 10th February - Losses on currency markets cost more than £3bn

Independent 10th February - Britain's exit from ERM on Black Wednesday cost £4bn

Independent 10th February - Dirty politics and the perversion of a new freedom

Guardian 10th February - Treasury papers reveal cost of Black Wednesday

Guardian 10th February - Tories cry foul over secret papers

The Times 10th February - Prime Minister was ready to resign after currency crisis

The Times 10th February- Money and murk- Reflections on the ERM and the Freedom of Information Act

BBC - Major welcomes ERM papers release

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