Prime Minister David Cameron was today urged to drop proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act, in a letter sent to him by newspapers, campaign groups and charities.
Press Gazette, the Independent and London Evening Standard, the Daily Mail, the Guardian, and the Society of Editors were amongst the many that signed the appeal, coordinated by the Campaign for Freedom of Information.
The Government is reviving proposals to impose a drastic curb on the number of FoI requests which public authorities have answer by imposing new cost limits.
This is a rival of proposals first put forward by the Blair government in 2006 and then thrown out by Gordon Brown after he became Prime Minister in 2007 after a campaign which was strongly backed by Press Gazette.
Currently FoI requests can be refused if the cost of finding the information exceeds £600 for central government and £450 for lother authorities. Under the changes time spent considering a request and redacting information could be added to these cost limits.
According to the Campaign for Freedom of Information: "At present, it is often possible to overcome a cost refusal by narrowing a request’s scope, so that it applies to fewer records. But this will not help if the problem is caused not by the number of records but by the complexity of the issue involved."
The Government is also proposing to limit groups or individuals from making too many requests where they become too "burdensome". This is another measure which could hit journalists hard.
Today's protest letter coincides with an international summit on government transparency being held in London on 31 October and 1 November as part of the Open Government Partnership, which is co-chaired by the UK and involves governments and civil society organisations from more than 60 countries.
The Government first announced the proposal to impose new curbs on the FoI act in November 2012.
Today's letter is backed by 76 organisations and says: “You have previously stated your intention to make the UK the most open and transparent government in the world. We find it difficult to reconcile your ambition that the UK should be the world leader in openness with the government’s proposals to restrict the FOI Act, which is a critical element of the UK’s openness arrangements.
“We hope that the government will mark that commitment by announcing that it will not be bringing forward proposals to restrict the Act.”
In an Early Day Motion 77 MPs called upon the government to drop the new FoI proposals.
Here is the letter in full:
Dear Prime Minister,Almost exactly a year ago the government announced a series of potential proposals to make it easier for public authorities to refuse freedom of information (FOI) requests on cost grounds.The stated intention was to focus on requests causing ‘disproportionate burdens’ as a result of ‘industrial use’ of the FOI Act.But the proposals would restrict access by all users, including those making occasional requests of modest scope. They include plans to reduce the limit at which FOI requests can be refused on cost grounds and to allow more activities to be taken into account when calculating whether this limit has been reached – including the time authorities spend considering whether to release information.Many requests of substantial public interest would be refused under these proposals regardless of the benefits of disclosure. They would have a severe effect on the operation of the FOI Act.This week the UK chairs the international Open Government Partnership (OGP) summit in London to be attended by government and civil society representatives from some 60 countries. In this context, you have previously stated your intention to make the UK “the most open and transparent government in the world”.We find it difficult to reconcile your ambition that the UK should be the world leader in openness with the government’s proposals to restrict the FOI Act, which is a critical element of the UK’s openness arrangements.Government Response to the Justice Committee’s Report: Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, November 2012. We hope that the government will mark that commitment by announcing that it will not be bringing forward proposals to restrict the Act.Yours sincerely,Peter WalshChief ExecutiveAction against Medical AccidentsRoger WicksDirector of Policy and CampaignsAction on Hearing LossDavina James-HanmanDirectorAgainst Violence & AbuseAndrew TylerDirectorAnimal AidDavid BanisarSenior Legal CounselArticle 19Nick PicklesDirectorBig Brother WatchPavan DhaliwalHead of Public AffairsBritish Humanist AssociationStephen BowenDirectorBritish Institute of Human RightsNasreen RehmanChairBritish Muslims for Secular DemocracyGerry MorrisseyGeneral SecretaryBroadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre UnionJo Harvey BarringerChair of TrusteesBroken Rainbow UKMichelle ThewChief Executive OfficerBUAVAnn FelthamParliamentary Co-ordinatorCampaign Against Arms TradeStephen JosephChief ExecutiveCampaign for Better TransportMaurice FrankelDirectorCampaign for Freedom of InformationBarry WhiteNational OrganiserCampaign for Press and Broadcasting FreedomPeter NewellCo-ordinatorChildren are unbeatable! AllianceCompact VoiceMarilyn CroserCo-ordinatorCorporate Responsibility CoalitionDr Michele LambDirectorCrucible Centre for Human Rights ResearchCharles GarsideAssistant EditorDaily MailAnthony ZacharzewskiChief ExecutiveDemocratic SocietyLeander NecklesBoard MemberEquanomics-UKHeather Brooke FOI campaignerGita PariharHead of LegalFriends of the EarthChris WhitwellDirectorFriends, Families and Travellers Community BaseWill MoyDirectorFull FactBernard ReedTrusteeGender Identity Research and Education SocietyJan ThompsonManaging EditorGuardian News & MediaHenrietta DoylePolicy OfficerInclusion LondonAndy WhitmoreIndigenous Peoples LinksJenny HirstCo-chairInsulin Dependent Diabetes TrustAnne ThurstonDirectorInternational Records Management TrustSimon BurallDirectorInvolveJonathan StevensonCampaigns and Communications OfficerJubilee Debt CampaignRatna LachmanDirectorJUST West YorkshireJulie BishopDirectorLaw Centres NetworkMichael CrossNews EditorLaw Society GazetteJoe DuckworthChief ExecutiveLeague Against Cruel SportsRussell LevyHead of Clinical NegligenceLeigh DayJames WelchLegal DirectorLibertyDoug WillsManaging EditorLondon Evening Standard, Independent & Independent on SundayRichard SollyCo-ordinatorLondon Mining NetworkRuth Grove-WhitePolicy DirectorMigrants’ Rights NetworkPaul FarmerChief Executive OfficerMindTom SteinbergDirectorMySocietyKeith Porteous WoodExecutive DirectorNational Secular SocietyMichelle StanistreetGeneral SecretaryNational Union of JournalistsSantha RasaiahPolitical, Editorial and Regulatory Affairs DirectorNewspaper SocietyLibby AndersonPolicy DirectorOneKindMagnus NomeEditor-in-ChiefOpen DemocracyJonathan GrayDirector of Policy & IdeasOpen Knowledge FoundationJim KillockExecutive DirectorOpen Rights GroupChris TaggartCEO and co-founderOpenCorporatesLouise HazanCampaigns ManagerPeople & PlanetTim DaviesCo-directorPractical ParticipationDominic PonsfordEditorPress GazetteNicki RenstenPrisoners’ Advice ServiceCathy JamesChief ExecutivePublic Concern at WorkAndy RowellDirectorPublic Interest InvestigationsRichard HawkinsDirectorPublic Interest Research CentreDavid Hall-MatthewsManaging DirectorPublish What You FundAndy GreggChief ExecutiveRace on the AgendaMaurice WrenChief ExecutiveRefugee CouncilGraham SmithChief Executive OfficerRepublicLucas AminCo-founder and Operations DirectorRequest InitiativeSusan BryantDirectorRights Watch (UK)Amy Aeron-ThomasExecutive DirectorRoadPeacePaul GibbonsSave FOIBob SatchwellExecutive DirectorSociety of EditorsTamasin CaveDirectorSpinwatchJonathan IsabyPolitical DirectorTaxpayers’ AllianceGavin AitchisonNews EditorThe Press in YorkPenelope GibbsDirectorTransform JusticeAlexandra RunswickDirectorUnlock DemocracyVivienne HayesChief Executive OfficerWomen’s Resource Centre