Where is the “freedom” in “Freedom of Information”?

So Jack Straw has vetoed the publication of minutes of cabinet meetings leading up to the Iraq war, after the Information Tribuneral ruled that they should be released.

Now I have to say I don’t have any strong opinion about whether it is desirable for these minutes to be released. I don’t think they are likely to contain anything we don’t know already know and we can piece together a good idea what went on from memoirs published by the likes of Robin Cook, Alastair Campbell and David Blunkett. As for the argument that cabinet meetings should remain secret otherwise it will prevent full and frank discussions, I can accept that argument up to a point but the Information Commissioner did make it clear that this was an exceptional case, due to the overwhelming public interest. I would also question, apropos the point I made above, whether someone will be prepared to speak frankly if they know that the person sitting next to them is going to reveal all in their memoirs in a couple of years time.

However, I have to ask what is the point of having a Freedom of Information Act at all if ministers are simply able to veto rulings that go against them? It simply undermines the entire principle behind the legislation. If ministers are able to decide when or not to comply with orders to release information then where is the “freedom” for the public? All the government has effectively done is to create a mechanism to request information when we should be able to demand it.