Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Freedom of Information - is the Government sincere?

Guy Etchells has successfully argued for the release of the 1939 English and Welsh national registration census for information on those who were enumerated at the time but who are now deceased. Here he shares a few thoughts on the effectiveness of the act down south, and his belief that the government has an obligation to release the censuses from 1921 to 1971 also, citing the plight of many who were sent overseas through the child migrant scheme, for whom the information within the documents might be able to help when it comes to trying to trace family left behind.

Whenever the government are asked to release information from later census they trot out the old chestnut excuse that they cannot allow an early release of information because that would constitute a breach of promise.

They never remark that the promises they made in the White Paper in advance of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 promised that no class of records would be exempt.

“3.8 We believe the 15 exemptions in the Code of Practice can be substantially reduced. Indeed, we do not propose that the Act should contain exempt categories at all, but rather that disclosure should be assessed on a "contents basis", records being disclosed in a partial form with any necessary deletions, rather than being completely withheld. This ensures that the harm test is sensibly and realistically
applied to key areas. We have provisionally identified seven "specified interests" in place of the Code's exemptions.”

Or the promises that all requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act would be based on a presumption of openness.

“3.1 Decisions on disclosure under the FOI Act will be based on a presumption of openness.”

The fact that the present government is so quick to renege on modern promises concerning current legislation yet preciously guard historic promises that protect very little shows that they cannot be trusted.

Since the news of the Information Commissioner’s decision regarding my request for of information gathered under the 1939 National Registration many people have contacted me. These people include those who were shipped abroad as child migrants.

The government claim they are sorry for that action but at the same time deliberately obstructing their attempts to find their lost families by refusing to release census information.

If the government of today is truly sorry for the disgusting actions of their predecessors then they can prove this by immediately releasing all census from the 1921 up to 1971 inclusive to public inspection. Such a release is within the present laws of the land (Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007) and personal privacy issues could be safeguarded by redacting personal information as was done with the early release of the 1911 census.

Enough information would still be available to assist child migrants and others discover the truth of their situation.

Such a release would prove that the government were indeed honourable in their promises and intentions and truly concerned about the plight of those they abandoned.

(With thanks to Guy)

Professional genealogical problem solving and research

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