The Development of Freedom of Information in Britain 1960-2000
Draft Chapter for Felle, T. and Mair, J. (2014) FOI 10 years on: freedom fighting or lazy journalism? London: Abramis UK
9 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2015
Date Written: October 12, 2014
Before the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act of 2000, successive UK governments initiated a series of incremental openness reforms from the 1960s onwards. This process took place on two levels. At central government level, the debate began through growing pressure to reform the Official Secrets Act of 1911, which then transformed into discussion around access to information. At local government level, there was a more consistent and coherent opening up of access to meetings and decisions, with significant statutory access legislation passed each decade between 1960 and 2000.
Access to Information legislation, despite its powerful symbolism, is rarely a policy that attracts votes. It is frequently a ‘vote-less’ policy, exciting little electoral interest and reliant on media pressure, lobbying and a series of focusing events, helped intermittently by politicians pressured into action. As seen in other FOI regimes, in the UK the media helped provide the vital momentum. In the 1960s and 1970s, through highlighting (and inadvertently triggering) scandals, exposing secrecy in local and central government level and allying with a strengthening lobby group, the media continually kept openness on the political agenda. By the 1980s it formed part of a growing network, working with NGOs and MPs in pressuring for FOI. It remains a key defender, innovator and user of FOI (Hazell et al 2010).
Keywords: Freedom of Information, FOI, Britain
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