The 1999 draft Bill
The retreat becomes a rout
in The politics of freedom of information
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This chapter follows the process from January 1998 to the much delayed publication of the draft bill in 1999. The FOI bill ‘swapped’ policy team and, at this point, shifted the source of policy drive. With no internal champions the push came from a combination of the legislature, the media and the government’s own waning sense of duty to its manifesto.

The chapter focuses on the growing internal pressure from within the government to change the FOI commitment. Irvine’s combative approach led to short term success but a lack of consensus for moving forward. The proposed policy was threatening to key politicians and officials but also vulnerable due to the flaws within it. As Irvine’s radical plans stalled, senior figures, including the Prime Minister had growing doubts about the policy. Flaws in the White Paper were used to revise and weaken the policy while the fading power of the radical FOI group was reduced by Lord Irvine’s own personal loss of influence.

The key moment came in 1998 when FOI was transferred from supporter Irvine to sceptic Jack Straw and the Cabinet Office team broken up. This led to a much more detailed but much weaker draft FOI bill, which inserted a veto power for government and reduced the power of the independent reviewer. The original proposals were modified within the Cabinet committee. Yet the bill survived in part due to the insertion of a ‘five year’ implementation gap and the government’s lukewarm commitment to its reform agenda. However, the bill was not a wholesale watering down, as it added Parliament to the Act’s coverage.

The politics of freedom of information

How and why governments pass laws that threaten their power

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