Since the Freedom of Information Act came into force I've used it a few times. Have you ever tried the system? Believe me your tenacity gets a thorough workout.
Two requests were handled speedily (and to my satisfaction) and the other four replied with a standard letter stating my request breeched the Data Protection Act, section xyz, paragraph abc. I'm paraphrasing. Two of those I thought were important enough to pursue so I did. Neither was resolved and they became battles for access to information which ought to be in the public domain. It's time consuming interpreting the jargon and excuses and I can understand why many people give up. One wrong word in your request and it's ammunition for the recipient to make life as difficult as possible for you.
The Deputy Prime Minister recently argued, in a high-profile speech, that openness should be extended to more organisations which benefit from public money 'yet who cannot be properly scrutinised'. Few people would disagree with that statement.
But, tucked away in the civil service verbosity of a civil liberties package unveiled by Nick Clegg, are moves to exempt senior royals from freedom of information laws. The Royal Family is to be granted absolute protection from public scrutiny in a reform designed to draw a veil of secrecy over the affairs of the Queen, Prince Charles and Prince William.
Tom Brake, the MP for Carshalton and Wallington, is 'disappointed' by the failure to enforce more openness. Disappointed? I'd be much happier if he'd said he was furious but he possibly doesn't want to fall out with the royals, although his card may well be already marked 'no honour under any circumstance'. Quite rightly he states "the Royal Family are recipients of substantial sums of public money. They should be accountable through FOI. In my view it should be possible to differentiate matters that rightly should not be subject to FOI from those that should in terms of the expenditure of public money".
Buckingham Palace disagrees because they say the FOI has failed to protect the constitutional position of the monarchy and heir to the throne. The spokesman explained that the sovereign has the right and duty to be consulted, to encourage and warn the government, and by extension, the heir to the throne had the constitutional right and duty to prepare himself for the role of King. 'This constitutional position relies on confidentiality so that all such correspondence is confidential,' said a spokesman.
I sense Charlie is building his defences prior to being promoted.
But there's good news for us hoi polloi. 'The Ministry of Justice intends to increase the number of organisations to which FOI requests can be made, bringing bodies such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Services Ombudsman, the higher education admissions body UCAS and also all companies wholly owned by any number of public authorities.
What have the royals to hide? We'll never know now, but if you read the end of the Independent's article, there have been quite a few revelations in their expenditure when they were open for FOI business. MPs will be rubbing their hands with glee and desperately hoping that they're next in line for protection from FOI.
Nick Clegg isn't doing too well in government is he? Most of his principles seem to have vanished like 'sna aff a dyke' because of his desire to sit on the front bench and look authoritarian. I won't mention the armoured car and his protests about government ministers using such transport. The damage he is doing to his party appears irrelevant. Time a libdem backbencher stood up and told him a few home truths.