Freedom of Information or NOT?

‘The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account’ ......... or does it?

Government’s policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England: Government transparency and accountability

July 2013

The publication of the Government’s policy on Bovine TB and badger control in England by the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) in December 2011i has resulted in a great deal of often heated scientific, political and public debate, and generated widespread concern among many stakeholder groups and the public at large.

Not least among those concerns has been the lack of transparency from DEFRA on this issue, the clear abuse of response timelines in order to avoid answering queries in a timely fashion, and its misuse of the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 in order to prevent the release of information which is clearly of significant public interest.

The provision of detailed information on all aspects of the Government’s policy is essential if the public is to have any confidence that the policy is evidence-based, has not been unduly influenced by those with vested interests, and is likely to generate credible information on which future policy can be based.

Three examples of the difficulties experienced are summarised below:

The criteria and methodology for determining humaneness

Humane Society International/UK (HSI UK) approached DEFRA in October 2012 with a number of specific questions relating to the criteria and methodology by which the humaneness of ‘controlled shooting’ would be assessed during the ‘pilot culls’, originally scheduled to take place in 2012 but subsequently delayed until 2013. DEFRA has used various tactics to prevent and delay disclosure of information, including: