Secrecy over Chequers dinner dates

Again this Government is doing what it does best: going backwards not forwards. One of the first disclosures after the Right to Know law was enacted 1 January 2005 was the list of guests who dined at the Prime Minister’s Chequers residence. The list included a whole range of luminaries from the editor of the Guardian to TV celebs Richard and Judy. Now it seems, Tony Blair is fighting to keep this information secret. What does he have to hide?

Blair’s lips sealed over dinner guests at Chequers
Independent, 22 August 2006
By Oliver Duff

Wealthy donors aren’t the only New Labour supporters Tony Blair is keen to shield from the inquisitive spotlights of press, politicians and public. He is similarly protective over who he invites to dinner.

Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary (and Blair’s former flatmate), may call the Freedom of Information Act “a giant step forward” in eroding official secrecy, but the PM again refuses to list the guests he has entertained at his Elizabethan country residence, Chequers.

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Lamb is the proverbial thorn, hassling the Cabinet Office to release details of Tony’s cronies since November 2005. Lamb made a similar request last year, eventually succesful – revealing that David Bowie, Sir Ben Kingsley, Richard Madeley and Judy Finnegan were among those to have enjoyed the Blairs’ hospitality.

This year, however, Downing Street pen pushers have denied Lamb his moment of glory, relying on a nifty legislative loophole which says that they don’t have to reveal anything now – just so long as they plan to publish it “at some future date (whether determined or not)”. How about in 10 years’ time?

“The whole spirit of the freedom of information legislation is about openness, but the Government’s attitude towards it is to scupper it as much as they can,” says Lamb. “They established the principle of disclosure last year, but this time round I’ve suddenly been met by a brick wall.”

Downing Street commented that it had decided to publish the information at “regular” intervals.

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