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Last Updated: Friday, 11 February, 2005, 21:53 GMT
Do you agree with Treasury decision?
Former PM John Major and Chancellor Norman Lamont tried to keep the pound within the ERM allowed range
Treasury officials are holding back information relating to Britain's exit from the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM) in September 1992, the BBC has found out.

Black Wednesday, 16 September 1992, was the day Britain crashed out of the ERM - a system for tying the pound and other currencies' values to that of the German mark, and was a precursor to the creation of the single European currency.

The Treasury are defending their decision saying that the documents about Black Wednesday are "misleading and outdated" but Shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin said: "This is supposed to be a Freedom of Information Act, not a Freedom of Propaganda Act."

Is the Treasury right to hold back the paperwork? Could this set a precedent for government information? What implications does this have on the Freedom of Information Act?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

A cynical ploy to whip up anti-Tory sentiment
Tom Nixon, London
This appears to be a cynical ploy to whip up anti-Tory sentiment before the general election. The government has already secured the vote of the far right by cynically 'revealing' to all that the shadow leader and treasurer are Jews, now it wants to get a piece of the working class/middle class vote by reminding people of high interest rates under the Tories. Where are their policies?
Tom Nixon, London

A watered down, lily-livered act was never going to do anything about the institutionalised veil of secrecy that pervades all aspects of "public" governance. This act was only ever a piece of propaganda for ministers to wave about saying, "look how open and honest we are".
Graeme, England

Just more excuses to get out of revealing to the public what really went on and trying to cover up their actions. We cannot trust politicians to be open since they try to cover up what they don't want us to know with excuses and publicise the very few good things they do over and over again.
John Richard Jones, Preston, UK

How low will Labour stoop for political gain?
James Murphy, Dorset, UK

As long as civil servants and governments aren't under a legal obligation to disclose information as soon as it's demanded, then the Freedom of Information Act isn't worth the paper it's printed on.
James, UK

The information being sought does not affect our national security, therefore it should be released, as required under the act. The government sought to create the act, so should not try to block things it may be embarrassed about.
Richard, Huddersfield UK

Do politicians really wonder why people simply cannot be bothered voting?
JP, UK
The Freedom of Information Act, another political promise, another lie. Do politicians really wonder why people simply cannot be bothered voting, with the continuous lying, to the point where they even invented a new word "untruth" just so they can say they didn't lie! Pathetic...
JP, UK

It was evident to anyone who takes the time to look at the provisions of the FOIA that it was never intended to allow the public to get hold of any information it likes. (Although this was obviously a hopeful journalistic interpretation). It's full of exemptions and exceptions, which essentially allow the government to release whatever information it chooses. Anyone who thought that a government would (and indeed should) let anyone look at any of its documents, was deluding themselves.
Ross, London, UK

It's clearly the government's instinct to keep as much as possible secret from those of us who pay their wages. In extremely rare circumstances, such as matters of national security where MI6 operatives' lives could be at risk, this may be justified. The rest of the time, it is inexcusable.
Adam, London, UK

Although it would be extremely interesting to know who said what to whom (Norman Lamont and John Major), it should remain "under wraps". There is only so much that the Public should know about. Total transparency upsets a lot of people. The Freedom of information act should have been scaled back to more superficial events.
Chris Kisch, Milton Keynes, UK

It seems the FOIA was more of a goodwill gesture rather than anything of any substance
Chris Beneyto, London, UK
It seems the FOIA was more of a goodwill gesture rather than anything of any substance. So far we have seen the act turn into more of a "Freedom of information that we want you to see" act. One of many new laws that were good in paper but mean little in practice.
Chris Beneyto, London, UK

The Freedom of Information Act gives the public the right to request information. However, there are legal exemptions for example, for information not in the best interests of the nation or information that relates to advice - rather than evidence or information - given to ministers by civil servants. These are largely to protect the impartiality of the system, nothing to do with political agendas or posturing. The process the Treasury are going through now is simply to assess what should and should not (legally) be released. Although ministers do get the final say, so maybe there is an element of posterior covering on their behalf.....
Ben, London

I think the papers should be released. Given that the ERM was a precursor to the Euro, we should be allowed to see why it failed. If we are not given this opportunity, we cannot make a reasoned decision when we finally go to the polls regarding the Euro. I'm sure the government would like us to be in full possession of the facts when we decide, wouldn't they?
Ollie, Leeds, UK

Don't worry, if they don't release it to us willingly we'll just wait until it gets emailed to someone by mistake.
Steve, Cumbria, UK

This shows "Freedom of Information" for the nonsense it is. How anyone can justify withholding this type of information is beyond me. All the gagging order does is show that ministerial embarrassment is a good reason for secrecy. Not good enough!
Craig, Stirling, Scotland

I consider all this bickering to be election posturing. It just consolidates the cynical view of politics and politicians taken by the electorate as a whole.
Maggie Blackmore, London. England

The government should impose a 3 or 6 month ban on information releases before an election
Jim, Espom
Generally speaking the Freedom of Information Act is a great thing, but like all good things can be badly used. This whole row about events in 1992 is pathetic and smacks of Alistair Campbell style politics. Labour has been in power 7 years now and must stand on its own record and give up pointing their finger at previous governments. Ethically the government should impose a 3 or 6 month ban on information releases before an election or release everything.
Jim, Espom

Question - how do you turn something that happened 12 years ago into front-page news? Amazing what happens in election years, no?
Peter Hurford, Wilts, UK

What a farce! Why were they asking for this in the first place? What is the relevance, other than an attempt to embarrass the Tories? There is no reason to keep anything secret except for information relating to current military or intelligence operations. Yet another New Labour law that is all noise and no substance.
Tim, London, UK

Wow - the Tories hate to be reminded of their 18 years in power. Did they think we had forgotten the rise in rates to 15%? You can tell by some of the Tory comments in here how angry they are that people are being reminded about it. Please nobody mention the 3 million unemployed, the 3 recessions and high inflation.
Gary Gatter, London, UK

Totally defeats the object of the Freedom of Information Act doesn't it. Smells of a cover up to me.
G D Price, London

These civil servants owe their jobs and livelihoods to us
Hazel, London
I think we should start by demanding a list of who actually is handling these requests at the treasury and how much of our money they are being paid to do their jobs. At the end of the day, these civil servants owe their jobs and livelihoods to us, the hard working tax payers of this country. They - and the politicians we also carry on our payroll - should do as they are asked, and stop treating the public with disrespect.
Hazel, London

The whole ERM debacle and boom-bust of the Tory years were problems unique to that period. Labour are lucky they have not faced such challenges. The whole ERM debacle was a case of pro-European nations giving the UK a hiding for been a thorn in the side of the French-German led European Union. Those countries failed to support the pound, as they were bound to do, and left it to take a beating from speculators. Labour would have done no better in the same situation, unless they had rolled over and signed up to the Maastricht treaty. The events of that day shows the EU have no interest in the fair treatment of nations other than Germany and France.
WJ, Leeds

It is surely stretching incredulity to beyond the point of breaking to expect anyone to believe the document was inadvertently emailed to the BBC given the governments recent problems with embarrassing emails.
Colin, Rochdale

Once again, the BBC becomes the propaganda machine for the Labour Party. In the run up to an election, Labour seek to draw attention to previous Conservative failings. There's no valid reason to dig this up so the BBC/Labour create one via some activity around the disclosure of documents. The real message is to remind people about this example of mismanagement. Once again, the BBC have uncritically followed this to further Labour's chances of re-election. Poor critical thinking, poor journalism.
Paul Miller, Ascot, UK

Most disturbing to me is to realise how many man-hours have been committed to this one request
Dayo, Cardiff, UK

Most disturbing to me is to realise how many man-hours have been committed to this one request. It gives you some idea of the bureaucratic mindset of those who work in the civil service. I'm sure they'll be angling for a new department of thousands to deal solely with Freedom of Information.
Dayo, Cardiff, UK

A little while ago on these web pages in response to a Have Your Say about whether politics was getting too dirty I pointed out that in my opinion it was and as a result I no longer voted in any election. The desperation of politicians of all parties to keep secret their acts and to avoid any criticism is clearly evident by the government's actions in this matter today. I see no reason to go back on my decision to stay away from the polls. We the public are treated with contempt by politicians and senior civil servants alike.
Karl, London

Politicians and civil servants should be banned from making the judgment on what should be published and what should be censored in the public interest. In the interests of fair play, these choices should be left to an independent jury of members of the public.
Graham Shelton, Oxford, England

Honestly, it's just like an episode of Yes Minister
Matt F, Bristol, UK

So the BBC requested some general information on how sensitive FOI requests are dealt with - and what comes back? Details of a particular event from over 12 years ago that discredits the Tories. Honestly, it's just like an episode of Yes Minister.
Matt F, Bristol, UK

The Freedom of Information Act is just another great example of what the EU can do for you. Keep in mind that if you don't agree with your government's decisions you can always appeal to the European Court Of Justice (another great institute).
Jose Fernandez, Barcelona

This only makes me think "What does the government know that they don't want me to know?"
Richard, UK

Shouldn't every politician know that everything that they do will be made public after 13 years or so? Wouldn't that be an incentive to work ethically? How is this a bad thing?
Martin Bryant, Balsall Common, UK

For us (general public) outside of the Westminster village, this whole situation is farcical and getting nowhere. It would really help if BBC journalists would take a more robust stance on this. The public can only hear what politicians want us to hear unless someone can probe further for us. You (BBC journalists) can do this.

Make the ministers explain why they are allowing selective interpretation of the Freedom of Information Act. And when they have given you their answer, then please challenge again. And again. You used to be very strong on this (witness Paxman vs Howard) but now it seems that Labour can say whatever they want without fear of questioning.
Ian Andrews, London, England

I don't really care any more. All governments and politicians seem intent on cover-ups and lies, and using spin to gain support. Where have good old fashion British values gone like honesty? It feels like no-one can be trusted, in fact the treasurer of my local football team even disappeared with the club fund... some 211.72. Proof enough!
Roger Jones, Norwich, UK

A politician said a week is a long time in politics. Twelve years ago the papers were state of the art information, today they are "misleading and outdated", really? How many more incidences of politicians being fed misleading and outdated information will surface as the years go by on such trivial matters as Weapons of Mass Destruction, poison gases, reasons to go to war, etc.?
Peter Nixon, Middlesbrough, UK

The Treasury should not be making a decision
Ed Smith, Nottingham, UK

The Treasury should not be making a decision. If the Freedom of Information Act is law in the UK then civil servants should comply with it. Surely the Treasury should be acting as servants and not policy makers. Come on Mr Blair show who is running the country, either Treasury comply with the FOI which this parliament has introduced or dismiss the individuals at the top who pick and choose which laws they comply with.
Ed Smith, Nottingham, UK

But as your own story explains, the Treasury haven't made a decision yet. They are, rightly, and in accordance with the FOI Act, determining what should be released and what shouldn't. The revelation that they are going through this process hardly makes this the top news story of the day. Let's at least wait for the outcome.
George Garnett, Doncaster, UK

A lot depends on exactly what is being held back. It may be that they are not releasing an economic analysis that was based on incomplete information, and was subsequently superseded in the light of information that emerged later. That said, there is a natural scepticism for anything this government says and does any more.
Ian, Edinburgh, UK

Anything that happened in the past is "out of date". That's like saying people should not study history because it's old news. What sort of ludicrous argument is that?
Adrian Mugridge, Chester, UK

Once again we see this current government not willing to put into practice Acts which have passed all correct procedures for entirely their own political purposes, not acting in the first instance to represent the people of this country.
Jim Wainwright, Skipton, England

Given Labour is dead keen (still!) on Tory bashing (esp Black Wednesday) are they fearful that something in the documents will torpedo that particular line of attack?
Ad, UK

This is all a pre-election ruse by Labour
Kevin, West Midlands

This is all a pre-election ruse by Labour to remind everyone of the Conservatives disastrous management of the economy. Could anyone cope with 15% interest rates now? I'd have to sell my house and buy a caravan.
Kevin, West Midlands

It's obviously not in the government's interest to release the information, so they won't. Do you really believe anything politicians say these days? I don't.
Brian, UK

Reports like this that are delayed only fuel interest and highlight the errors made by the Tories. I may sound a bit cynical but if Black Wednesday occurred under Labour power there would be no problem with this report being released (if Labour was in power). I think it is just an election scam being used to show the prior failings of the Tory party and an abuse of the Freedom of Information Act.
Mitch, Cardiff, Wales

Sounds like more media hype to me. If you read the document in question on the BBC site it doesn't seem so very controversial to me. What sounds like a simple internal discussion on what should and shouldn't be released under the Freedom of Information Act is now a 'row' between 'political propagandists'.
MW, UK

No I do not agree with it. The real truth about this country and our so-called freedom and democracy is that we have the right to shut up, do as we are told and pay our taxes. Things never change.
Tony, Welling, Kent

What should we expect? Another clear case of double standards. So what does the Freedom of Information Act mean? Freedom of information when it helps those in power?
Clive, Woking

It was 14 years ago. Move on. Earn your salaries and stop getting distracted by old news.
Lucy Bird, Southampton, Hants

Politics are all lies and propaganda. When does a politician ever answer a question? They just tell you what they want you to hear. Britain is for its people not politicians! We the public should know everything that happens in our country not only the government, manipulating data to sugar coat it. The public should be given proposals then the chance to vote on them.
Marcus, Wales

What a shame they have held back these papers, personally I think the government suddenly realised they may help keep us out of the Euro rather than help us get in. After all wasn't the ERM all about preparing to join the Euro?
Pat

Exactly what is the point of the Freedom of Information Act if they can choose not to show us something? Surely it just makes us want to see it more! But then maybe they expect to release it later (nearer the election) when they can say they were trying to hold it back so as not to embarrass the Tories! That would truly be a move worthy of our current government.
Andy GM Wood, London, UK





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