Friday, May 02, 2008

Government ordered to release CBI lobbying documents

Friends of the Earth
Press release 1 May 08
The Government has been ordered to disclose previously secret records of lobbying by business group the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), in a judgment published today (Thursday 1 May 2008), following a court case won by environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth.

In July 2005 Friends of the Earth requested details of lobbying meetings between the CBI and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) that had taken place shortly after the last General Election [1]. The information included records of monthly meetings between Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, Alan Johnson, and Director General of the CBI, Digby Jones. The information also includes the notes of a private away-day between senior CBI and DTI officials shortly after the last election.

In 2007 the Information Commissioner ordered the DTI to release most of the information requested by Friends of the Earth.

However, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (DBERR) - where Lord Jones is now a Minister - appealed to the Information Tribunal to overturn that decision .
In a ruling published today (Thursday 1 May 2008), the Tribunal ruled that nearly all of the disputed information must be released because there is a strong public interest in understanding how lobbyists influence government. In this case it is not possible to distinguish whether the CBI was neutrally advising or influencing government so there is a clear case for releasing the information in the public interest [5]. The Tribunal found that the lack of a lobbying disclosure system as they have in the USA increased the need for transparency.
Phil Michaels, Head of Legal at Friends of the Earth, said: "We welcome this very important Information Tribunal decision.

"The Tribunal has recognised the strong public interest in members of the public having access to lobbying records and has recognised that transparency is particularly important where a group like the CBI has privileged access to Government to push their views.

"It is crucial that the Government now changes its outmoded culture of secrecy and recognises the importance of transparency in its dealings with lobby groups."

Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform v Information Commissioner and Friends of the Earth (pdf)

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