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Conservatives seek probe into Whitehall shredding frenzy


Conservatives have called for an official investigation into claims that civil servants are destroying thousands of secret Whitehall documents before the public gain legal access to official papers on January 1 next year.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, the public will secure the unprecedented right to see confidential and classified material held by Government departments, including defence documents, ministerial diaries, and secret briefing papers.

But in the run up to the Act becoming law, some departments have doubled the amount of material being shredded, while in others bureaucrats have been instructed to delete emails more than three months old.

Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Dr Julian Lewis protested at the frenzied attempt to destroy documents in advance of the January 1 deadline, warned that academics and historians would be deprived of vital information relating to serious events, including the Iraq war and other overseas conflicts, and demanded an investigation by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas.

Dr Lewis said: "There has been a dramatic and disturbing increase in the number of files that have been shredded. The steep rise in shredding in some departments is hard to account for other than the awareness that information in these files will no longer be classified as confidential. In the past the Government could say nothing until 30 years had elapsed. It looks like there has been a bonfire of historical records."

After receiving a batch of ministerial answers confirming that the destruction of official files has been accelerated in Whitehall, Dr Lewis urged the Information Commission to investigate, and said: "The steep rise in the shredding going on in some departments is extremely worrying. It typical of Mr Blair's shameless Government to have trumpeted a piece of legislation as opening up the workings of government to the people, when we can see that in reality they intend to conceal it so thoroughly that even future historians won't be able to work out what happened. This is not an opening up of government, but a destruction of the historical record."

He added: "Usually the passage of time will at least show what a previous Government has been up to - but if Labour have their way, even that will no longer be possible."

23/12/2004
Lewis, Julian

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Promoted by Mark Slater on behalf of Torridge & West Devon Conservatives
both at Bridge House Fore Street Okehampton Devon EX20 1DL

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