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Posts Tagged ‘Foreign Office’

Michael Gove under fire for Department of Education’s stonewalling of Parliament in response to MPs’ questions

Michael Gove under fire for Department of Education’s stonewalling of Parliament in response to MPs’ questions

Michael Gove has been formally asked to explain his department’s “exceptionally poor performance” in stonewalling questions from MPs, amid renewed accusations of a lack of accountability at the heart of the Government’s Education team.

The chairman of the House of Commons’ Procedures Committee, Charles Walker, said he was “well aware of the exceptionally poor performance” of Mr Gove’s team in providing answers to parliamentary questions, and remained “unconvinced” that they were making sufficient efforts in tackling the problem, which has led to increasing claims of a diminished accountability.

With the Information Commissioner’s Office not ruling out legal action to force the Department for Education to improve its record in answering Freedom of Information requests, a senior Whitehall official close to David Cameron told The Independent that Mr Gove’s department was in danger of “resembling an information black hole”. Read more

James Cusick | The Independent | 28th April 2013

Blair makes a fortune on lecture tours… and you pay for his stay: Outcry as former PM stays on taxpayer-fueled residences

With millions in the bank, you would think Tony Blair could comfortably pay his hotel bills.  But it has emerged the taxpayer has effectively been subsidising at least some of the former prime minister’s profit-making lecture tours since he left office.

Mr Blair is taking advantage of free accommodation in luxury taxpayer-funded residences on his frequent trips overseas.  On a visit to the Philippines, where he was reportedly paid £200,000 a time for two half-hour lectures, he and his entourage were put up free of charge at the UK ambassador’s official residence.

They were able to enjoy a swimming pool, garden and tennis court at the residence, a Freedom of Information request revealed. Similarly secure accommodation in a private hotel would have personally cost thousands of pounds. Asked about such largesse being offered on a money-making trip, the Foreign Office last night suggested such freebies were routinely available to him. Read more

Neil Sears | The Daily Mail | 29th April 2013

Google reports record spike in government requests to remove content

Governments made a record number of requests for Google to remove political content in the last half of 2012, the search giant said on Thursday.

The number of official requests for content to be removed jumped 26% in the final six months of 2012 compared to the start of the year, according to the latest Google Transparency Report. Google received 2,285 government requests to remove 24,179 pieces of content – an increase from 1,811 requests to remove 18,070 pieces of content that the company received during the first half of 2012.

Requests were made to pull videos from YouTube, delete blog posts on Google’s Blogger service and to remove items from Google search, making them harder to find. Read more

Dominic Rushe | The Guardian | 25th April 2013

Male drivers fail to see the point

Over 8000 UK drivers are still driving despite having 12 or more points on their licence. The top fourteen licence point holders with 25 points or more are all men.

The official upper limit for license points according to DVLA is 12, or six for those who have held a licence for three years or less. However, a freedom of information request to the DVLA showed many male drivers with 25-36 points were still driving.

A male driver from Warrington has the highest number of points, 36. Currently, there are 20,439,578 male and 16,804,524 female licence holders in the UK, but it’s men who fall foul of the law more often. Read more

Fenland Citizen | 28th April 2013

Insecticide firms in secret bid to stop ban that could save bees

Europe is on the brink of a landmark ban on the world’s most widely used insecticides, which have increasingly been linked to serious declines in bee numbers. Despite intense secret lobbying by British ministers and chemical companies against the ban, revealed in documents obtained by the Observer, a vote in Brussels on Monday is expected to lead to the suspension of the nerve agents.

Bees and other insects are vital for global food production as they pollinate three-quarters of all crops. The plummeting numbers of pollinators in recent years has been blamed on disease, loss of habitat and, increasingly, the near ubiquitous use of neonicotinoid pesticides.

The prospect of a ban has prompted a fierce behind-the-scenes campaign. In a letter released to the Observer under freedom of information rules, the environment secretary, Owen Paterson, told the chemicals company Syngenta last week that he was “extremely disappointed” by the European commission’s proposed ban. Read more

Damian Carrington | The Observer | 28th April 2013

SSPO condemns freedom of information decision on seal killings

The Scottish Information Commissioner has found in favour of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture (GAAIA) in its appeal against Scottish Ministers following a freedom of information request to reveal information about seals killed under seal killing licences issued by the Ministers, including to which companies licences had been issued and how many seals were actually killed.

Following an investigation, the Commissioner found that the Ministers, while revealing some information, had wrongly withheld information on seal killings and required it to be disclosed.

While the Commissioner did not accept that the retrospective nature of the information would prevent its use by protestors, who might protest about the shooting having taken place, once details were released, she said she was not satisfied that the Ministers had demonstrated that disclosure of the information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially public safety. Read more

Fish Update | 26th April 2013

More than £100K top of the range mobiles and tablets given to council staff

MORE than £100,000 worth of iPads, iPhones and Blackberrys have been given to council staff – despite huge cuts to services in Coventry. Data revealed under the Freedom of Information Act shows top-of-the-range mobile phone and tablet devices worth £113,000 were handed out for the first time last year.

Coventry City Council insists they were purchased at an initial “subsidised price” but admits to shelling out £15,754 on 95 iPads for senior officers and councillors.

It comes when the city council is losing a THIRD of its government funding. Over the next three years, £60million more cuts are expected as well as at least 800 more job losses. Read more

Martin Bagot | Coventry Telegraph | 27th April 2013

USA: Consultants’ role in NY drilling study questioned

Government watchdog Common Cause and 11 environmental groups raised more questions Thursday about the role of gas industry-associated consultants in the state’s environmental impact study of shale gas drilling and fracking.

A review of Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Common Cause through Freedom of Information Law requests shows two more firms with memberships in the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York were contracted for the state’s review.

The review, still incomplete after five years, is to determine whether hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves blasting chemical-laden water deep into the ground, will be allowed in the state. Read more

Associated Press | 25th April 2013

CANADA: Liberals want ethics investigation of construction group’s lobbying

The Alberta Liberals sent letters to the province’s ethics and elections watchdogs Friday calling for investigations into lobbying by a coalition of construction interests that also made campaign donations to the Progressive Conservatives.

In the letters to Ethics Commissioner Neil Wilkinson and acting Chief Electoral Officer Lorie McKee-Jeske, Liberal Leader Raj Sherman said documents released through a Freedom of Information request to the Alberta Federation of Labour raise questions about the connection between political donations and attempts to influence legislation.

The documents, which include a series of emails after the April 2012 election, include a chain of messages from a construction company executive pushing for a meeting with Premier Alison Redford to discuss labour code changes being advocated by the Construction Competitiveness Coalition. Read more

Sarah O’Donnell | Edmonton Journal | 26th April 2013

SOUTH AFRICA: South African activists vow to fight on after MPs pass ‘secrecy bill’

Campaigners in South Africa have vowed “this fight is not over” after MPs passed widely condemned secrecy laws that could threaten whistleblowers and journalists with jail terms of up to 25 years.

The protection of state information bill, dubbed the “secrecy bill” by its opponents, was passed by 189 votes to 74, with one abstension, in a parliament dominated by the African National Congress (ANC). It is now a formality for President Jacob Zuma to sign it into law.

Freedom of speech activists acknowledge that the bill has been greatly improved and amended during five years of fierce national debate. But they warn that it still contains ambiguities and harsh penalties that could have a “chilling effect” on those seeking to expose official corruption. They intend to challenge the legislation in the highest court in the land. Read more

David Smith | The Guardian | 25th April 2013

CHINA: Hollande asked to raise freedom information during official visit to China

Reporters Without Borders urges French President Francois Hollande to raise human rights and freedom of information with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during a two-day official visit to China that began yesterday.

Hollande’s visit is the first by a foreign head of state since Xi was installed as China’s president on 14 March.

“While it is clear from the size of the accompanying delegation of French businessmen that trade will be the leading subject of their talks, it is essential that Hollande should keep his promise – announced by government spokesman Najat Vallaud-Belkacem – to raise human rights with Xi, and this should include freedom of information,” Reporters Without Borders said. Read more

Reporters Without Borders | 26th April 2013

AUSTRALIA: Hackers target Bureau of Statistics data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed that hackers have recently attempted to break through its security systems to get hold of potentially market sensitive information.

While the ABS says none of the attempted attacks were successful, there are growing concerns that intelligence about Australia’s economy is being eyed by either governments or individuals abroad.

News of the hacking attempts comes from a Freedom of Information request by the Australian Financial Review and, according to that, the ABS has been targeted by hackers over the past four years, including at least 11 incidents over seven months in 2012. Read more

Peter Ryan | ABC News | 26th April 2013

USA: US judge says US combat school must disclose names of foreign leaders it trains

OAKLAND, Calif. – The Department of Defence must disclose the names of individuals who studied and taught during the past eight years at a Georgia school that trains foreign military and police officers, a federal judge in California has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland rejected the federal government’s argument that identifying trainees and teachers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation would violate their privacy and potentially compromise their safety, saying such concerns were outweighed by “the strong public interest in access to this information.”

Hamilton’s ruling, issued Monday, came in a lawsuit brought by two San Francisco members of SOA Watch, a group that has protested for more than two decades outside the training school based at Fort Benning and worked to implicate its graduates in human rights abuses in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and other Latin American countries. Read more

Associated Press | 24th April 2013

USA: Lawmaker seeks to limit FOIA release of 911 calls

LANSING — Prompted by a high-profile case of an attack on a suburban Detroit family, a Michigan lawmaker has introduced a bill aimed at limiting the release of 911 recordings requested under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

Republican Rep. Kurt Heise of Plymouth said he wants to strike a balance between the public’s right to the information and the need for sensitivity, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The bill was prompted by a 2012 attack on the Cipriano family in Farmington Hills, Heise said. Tucker Cipriano is accused of beating his father to death with a baseball bat and trying to kill his mother and brother. Read more

Associated Press | 25th April 2013


FCO defends £10,000 spend on restuffing 20ft South American anaconda

William Hague has spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money on re-stuffing a 20ft-long ancient snake, it was revealed yesterday.

William Hague spent £10,000 of taxpayers’ money re-stuffing a 20ft-long ancient snake.

The Foreign Secretary ordered “Albert” the anaconda to be patched up after officials found he was in “poor” condition after decades of neglect.

The exotic artefact was given to Britain by a Bishop in Guyana in the 19th Century.

According to a freedom of information request the Foreign Office has not carried out “significant maintenance” on the snake in the last 40-50 years.

The damage was discovered after Albert was moved from his “suspended position” in the Foreign Office’s Ansell Library for planned refurbishments. Read more.

Tom McTague | The Daily Mirror | 1st November 2012

New report suggests lack of government transparency and openness

Freedom of Information requests have revealed a lack of government engagement with voluntary sector

Compact Voice recently submitted a series of Freedom of Information requests to fourteen government departments.

The requests contained a number of questions that we hoped would establish how well the government was working with the voluntary sector, and how well it was using the principles of Compact – the agreement between government and the voluntary sector, which sets out a number of principles to help them work better together.

A month later, we received replies to our requests. We had thought that the responses would give us a snapshot of how much money was being spent with the sector through grants and contracts, how many consultations had taken place and for how long, and whether adequate notice had been provided to funding changes. Read more.

Tim Elkins | The Guardian | 1st November 2012

Suffolk/Essex: Hundreds of motorists are spared bans despite having 12 points

HUNDREDS of drivers in Suffolk and Essex are still legally on the roads despite having 12 or more penalty points on their licence, shocking figures have revealed.

ccording to statistics from the DVLA, a total of 327 motorists are allowed to drive even though 12 points usually means a temporary driving ban unless it can be proved it would cause exceptional hardship.

The DVLA said courts are able to use their discretion to decide whether or not to disqualify a driver.

A Freedom of Information request to the DVLA showed there were 120 licence holders in Suffolk and 207 in Essex with 12 penalty points or more, as of September 1 this year, but who were still entitled to drive. Read more.

Lauren Everitt | East Anglia Daily Times | 1st November 2012

Bush and Blair’s pre-Iraq conversation must be disclosed, tribunal rules

Bush and Blair’s pre-Iraq conversation must be disclosed, tribunal rules

Foreign Office loses appeal against release of extracts from phone call that took place a few days before invasion

Extracts of a phone conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush a few days before the invasion of Iraq must be disclosed, a tribunal has ruled.

The Foreign Office lost an appeal against an order by the information commissioner, Christopher Graham, to disclose records of the conversation between the two leaders on 12 March 2003. Graham’s order was made in response to a freedom of information request by Stephen Plowden, a private individual who demanded disclosure of the entire record of the conversation.

Read more.

Richard Norton Taylor | The Guardian | 21st May 2012

Revealed: Ministers dragging feet over key growth recommendations in Beecroft report

Ministers are dragging their feet over more than a dozen key recommendations from a confidential Government report on boosting economic growth in Britain.

The report recommends that parents should not be able to take flexible leave from work until Britain’s economy and public finances have recovered in 2017.

The Government is thought to be preparing to publish the Beecroft report after receiving a series of Freedom of Information requests.

Read more.

Robert Winnett and Christopher Hope | The Telegraph | 21st May 2012

Soldier-turned-poet Robert Graves twice turned down the offer of an honour from Downing Street 

Robert Graves used his Claudius novels to warn of the dangers of becoming too close to the centre of political power in Ancient Rome.

But newly released documents show that the soldier-turned-poet was equally sceptical about modern politicians – and twice turned down the offer of an honour from Downing Street.

Graves feared that his artistic independence would have been jeopardised if he had accepted either of the honours offered to him by two different Tory Prime Ministers – Harold Macmillan and Margaret Thatcher.

His reluctance to embrace the honours system is revealed in Cabinet Office letters obtained by this newspaper under Freedom of Information laws

Read more.

Chris Hastings | The Daily Mail | 20th May 2012

Council of Europe cost Brighton and Hove taxpayers £40,000       

Brighton and Hove taxpayers paid nearly £40,000 on hosting last month’s Council of Europe event, The Argus can exclusively reveal.

The figure has been labelled “ridiculous” and “a burden” as it has emerged that the conference’s declaration was all but agreed in advanced.

The total, obtained by The Argus following a Freedom of Information request, includes £10,000 spent on flagpoles and £1,574 on new posters as the existing ones in the Brighton Centre were deemed “inappropriate” by the Foreign Office.

Read more.

Ben James | The Argus | 21st May 2012

Anti-social behaviour: Dyfed-Powys Police chief warns of cuts impact

A retiring chief constable says police could miss crime such as anti-social behaviour due to UK government cuts.

Ian Arundale of Dyfed-Powys Police warns that much anti-social behaviour comes from people with health and social problems rather than criminals.

Mr Arundale warned of a growing “austerity crimewave” in some areas.

Statistics released under the Freedom of Information Act show that 89,702 non-emergency calls were received in 2011 by the four Welsh police forces.

Read more.

BBC Wales | 21st May 2012

Car hijack victims ‘failed by outdated damages law’     

A leading solicitor has called on the Department of Justice to review the law on criminal damage compensation.

Current law in Northern Ireland says criminal damage has to be caused by three or more people, or terrorist acts, before compensation can be paid.

Both the SDLP and DUP agree the current system is in need of review.

Figures obtained by a Freedom of Information request show that, between April and September 2011, less than one fifth of the 474 criminal damage claims were successful under the “three or more persons” criterion.

Read more.

Aileen Moynagh | BBC | 21st May 2012

CIA wins fight to keep MPs in dark on rendition

American intelligence agencies including the CIA and the FBI have won a court ruling allowing them to withhold evidence from British MPs about suspected UK involvement in “extraordinary rendition” – the secret arrests and alleged torture of terror suspects.

A judge in Washington DC granted permission for key US intelligence bodies, including the highly sensitive National Security Agency, to exploit a loophole in US freedom of information legislation which bars the release of documentation to any body representing a foreign government.

Downing Street underlined the gravity of the torture claims yesterday when it urged police to interview former Labour ministers as part of an investigation into the alleged rendition and torture of a Libyan critic of Muammar Gaddafi. Jack Straw, who was Foreign Secretary at the time and is expected to be interviewed by detectives, denies any complicity in rendition – as have his successors at the Foreign Office. Whitehall officials have made clear that the intelligence services believe their operations “were in line with ministerially authorised government policy”.

Read more here.

Cahal Milmo and Nigel Morris | The Independent | 11th April 2012

University of Canberra (AUS) asks students to withdraw FOI requests

Investigative journalism students targeted journalism course cuts and the university’s sponsorship of the ACT Brumbies.

The University of Canberra asked five journalism students to withdraw Freedom of Information applications targeting controversial stories involving UC journalism course cuts and its sponsorship of the ACT Brumbies.

The students submitted their request as part of a final-year investigative journalism assignment into freedom of information processes but four of the five students withdrew them after intervention from the Dean of Arts and Design, Professor Greg Battye.

Read more here:

Emma MacDonald | The Sydney Morning Herald | 10th April 2012

How the UK can learn from India’s Right to Information Act

India enacted its Right to Information Act at about the same time as the UK’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Act 2000, and campaigners in both countries have much to learn from one another.

India’s act is more powerful than its counterpart in the UK, particularly in its use of penalties for delay or non-compliance. Officials who fail to supply information, or delay, face a personal fine of 250 rupees (pounds 3) a day. The UK act gives officials a host of reasons to refuse information on the basis of various exemptions; this provision was strongly and successfully opposed by citizens in India.

There is greater provision in Indian law for access to information from private companies, including those running outsourced agencies. One example of information obtainable in India that would not have been possible to obtain in the UK or the rest of Europe was when a subsidiary of Monsanto was forced to reveal information related to trials of genetically modified crops, which the company had claimed was protected by commercial interest

Read more here.

Aruna Roy | The Guardian | 10th April 2012

Fire crews in Wales facing violents attacks at rate of one a week     

Fire crews in Wales are facing violent attacks from the public on a weekly basis as they attempt to go about their work.

Information from fire services show firefighters being attacked, pelted with objects and verbally abused as they try to respond to emergency call outs.

Overall, crews across Wales have been hit by 181 attacks over the past four years, one every 7.6 days, according to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Read More here:

Claire Miller | Wales Online | 9th April 2012

Foreign Office faces Information Tribunal about UK residents’ secret rendition

An all-party parliamentary group, chaired by Conservative MP Andrew Tyrie is asking for full disclosure of intelligence documents possibly implicating British officials in secret renditions of UK residents to Guantánamo Bay and other notorious jails.

The Guardian reports that an Information Tribunal is currently examining whether or not those documents should be exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, as lawyers for the Foreign Office claim.

The newspaper also mentions that Tyrie’s parliamentary group is opposing the refusal of the FCO with the support of the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham.

The team asks for the release of documents relating to three cases: The rendition and ill-treatment of UK resident and Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed, the FCO’s request to former US state department legal adviser John Bellinger to claim Washington opposed the disclosure of CIA information about Mohamed that was passed on to MI5 and MI6, and finally communications between Britain’s intelligence and CIA about Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, who were also held in  Guantánamo Bay.

Ian Cobain, a journalist for the Guardian, told the tribunal that a pattern of allegation and denial followed by later acknowledgement that the allegations may have had substance after all “has been repeated several times over the last six years”. The case continues.

Doctor trainees’ rotas might ignore EU directive

FoIA replies relating to junior doctors’ rotas in NHS trusts had been brought into question by Bob Greatorex, the head of workforce planning and professional standards, it emerged today. The Telegraph reports 57 of the 77 trusts questioned replied to British Medical Journal Careers’ requests and although the data show all comply with the EU directive of a 48-hour limit, Mr Greatorex doubted its accuracy saying many trainees work extra hours not recorded under the system.

Scottish Executive’s secretary communications flooded with personal data instead of governmental issues

Sir Peter Housden seems more preoccupied with mundane hobbies, films and shopping than governmental issues, judging by his weekly updates to thousands of his staff. An FoIA request filed from The Telegraph, revealed that the Scottish Executive’s permanent secretary even received a complaint from a civil servant that he was not saying enough about his actual job.

Scottish First Minister criticised for ‘culture of secrecy’

Alex Salmond was brought under pressure last night for refusing to disclose information about any legal advice received pertaining to independent Scotland’s statutes in Europe, the Scotsman reports today. Following an FoIA request, the First Minister said according to the Ministerial Code of Conduct such advice is confidential, but a spokesman for the Scottish Labour party complained Mr Salmond was adopting a “culture or secrecy”. “The only thing stopping him from doing it may be that the Scottish Government hasn’t taken legal advice, or that it fatally undermines his case,” he said.

Carmarthenshire council spends £100,000 on private eyes

A freedom of information request to Carmarthenshire council revealed it has spent £100,000 on private detectives over the past three years, This is South Wales reports.