UK Foreign Office is over-secretive: Committee reports

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

The House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs published its Eighth Report today. This criticizes the way in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) protects information. The FCO has the presumption that information should be regarded secret unless there are good reasons for disclosure. The Committee regarded this management practice as a "relic of a bygone age, when secrecy was endemic in public life".

These days, in the Committee's view, attitudes to information are quite different and the presumption is that information should be available to the public unless there are "very strong and valid reasons not to disclose it".

The Committee gave an example. Extracts from the farewell e-gram from William Patey, the Ambassador to Baghdad, appeared in the press. The Committee had asked for, but had been refused, a copy of the message. Within days, the press reported that outgoing Heads of Mission were forbidden to send such messages.

The Committee noted that all the FCO Board papers it has asked for had been provided.