Freedom to hold officials to account is vital

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA

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Fleet Street has declared war on the Government over what is beginning to look like subversive plans to put the shutters up by curbing, or even abolishing, the Freedom of Information Act.

Chris Grayling, the abrasive Leader of the House of Commons, says it is wrong for journalists to use this legislation to create news stories.

What arrant and arrogant tosh.

The newspapers in particular, and the media in general, have done more than any Opposition party in the Commons to unearth scandals, wrong-doing, greed and even corruption among our so-called ruling classes.

And that, in part at any rate, has been helped along by the Freedom of Information Act – although not entirely.

Whitehall mandarins claim the existence of the Act actually inhibits ministers from going about their legitimate business.

That, too, is absolute nonsense.

What have they to hide? And if Members of Parliament, ministers or not, are up to some skulduggery, as has been clearly evidenced in the past, then we, who actually pay their wages (they are our servants, after all) have a total right as employers to know what they are up to.

In fact, the Act has helped to unearth so much political scandal that politicians are running scared they will be caught out again.

Basically, the only information which should not see the light of day is material connected with the security of the state. MPs have been calling for years for “transparency” in political affairs, but when they get it, they don’t like it. They are behaving like cowards.

So, unless the ideas of Grayling and his henchmen can be crushed, the electors of this country – the paymasters of Westminster and Whitehall – will once more be cast into the darkness.

And that would be scandalous.

The row between the House of Lords and the Commons over tax relief may be simmering, but it would be foolish to think that what had all the makings of a constitutional crisis has been averted.

David Cameron’s original threat to swamp the House of Lords with scores of Tory peers, to ensure the present Government gets its way, seems largely to have been abated, although that threat still exists.

But Cameron and Osborne are adamant that some kind of price will have to be paid by the Upper House for their intransigence.