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Nuki&#39s Eye

If the new “Freedom of Information” Bill now passing through Parliament

has not yet caught your attention, I advise you to have a close look at it

in the next few weeks and then to write to your local MP to complain.

The bill – a disgrace from start to finish – is an insult to every British

citizen and it will hit IFAs and all others whose job it is to protect

their clients&#39 financial interests particularly hard.

For those of you who are not aware, Tony Blair and his pals made a clear

manifesto commitment at the last general election to introduce a US-style

freedom of information law in Britain.

The bill, we were explicitly promised, would give all of us a legal right

of access to all Government papers except those whose release could be

shown to pose a “substantial threat” to the public interest.

For the first time in Britain, Labour claimed, we would have a law which

recognised that information collected and collated by the Government

belonged to us, the electorate.

If ever anyone wanted to see a Government paper, all you would need to do

is ask.

If you think that none of this has much to do with IFAs, you are wrong.

Freedom of information is not all about spies, satel-lites and other lofty

matters of state. It is also about a million and one very ordinary things

that affect all our everyday lives.

For example, any IFA worth his salt understands the importance of

determining a life office&#39s financial strength before making a

recommendation.

Which companies are suffering the worst lapse rates? Which proprietary

offices are raiding policyholders funds&#39 to pay off regulatory fines?

These are just a couple of questions you might want to ask on your

clients&#39 beh- alf and expect answers to.

However, you have no right to those answers now and you will not get them

even if the new “Freedom of Information” Bill becomes law in its current

form.

The sad fact is that New Labour has reneged on its manifesto commitment

and the bill now before Parliament is so weak that it is probably worse

than having no Freedom of Information Bill at all.

The test of “substantial harm” has been dropped, for example. Now any

information that could as much as “prejudice” any public or commercial

interest could be withheld.

Worse still, all inspection and investigation authorities with the power

to prosecute are to be made exempt from the new law.

This means that the Financial Services Authority will not be obliged to

hand over any information at all to IFAs or anyone else.

Do not make the mistake of thinking that these rules are academic and that

the authorities concerned would release important information off their own

back.

The questions mentioned above about lapse rate and raids on policyholders&#39

funds have already been asked of the Treasury and the FSA by the Consumers&#39

Association. In both cases, the answers have been refused on the grounds

that they might prejudice the commercial interests of the companies

concerned.

The so-called “Freedom of Information” Bill would give you no additional

right to such information and will probably make matters worse.

At least now when organisations such as the FSA hold back important

information they do so at some risk to their reputation.

Once the new bill is in place, they will be able to point to the

legislation and say: “Sorry, guv, it is not our fault. It&#39s the law.”

If you would like to be sure that the companies you are recommending have

not just dipped into their policyholders&#39 funds to extract several billions

of pounds in orphan assets that you believed your clients would benefit

from, put pen to paper and write to your local MP about the new Freedom of

Information Bill today.

For more information about the bill and its flaws look at the website www.

cfoi.org.uk.

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