Blair warned over FoI charges

Tony Blair has been warned he will face an all-party row if he sanctions higher fees for journalists using the Freedom of Information Act to extract official information.

In an unprecedented move the Tory and Liberal Democrat shadow Attorneys General Dominic Grieve and Simon Hughes have backed an open warning to Lord Falconer, the Constitutional Affairs Secretary, to think again.

They are supported by Alan Beith, the Liberal Democrat chairman of the all-party Constitutional Affairs Select Committee which in June told the government they saw no need to change the fees regulation.

Despite their recommendation the Department of Constitutional Affairs has been pressing ahead with a review of the fees regime because of ministerial concern at the time civil servants take to respond to journalists requests.

MPs today tabled a Commons motion voicing concern that the government is considering allowing an application fee to be charged for all requests or to allow authorities to refuse requests, on grounds of cost.

At present the 100,000 bodies covered by the FoI Act can charge, waive any fee, or simply refuse to provide any information if the costs of complying with the request exceeds £600 for Whitehall departments and £450 for other bodies.

The Commons motion, which has all-party support, was tabled by Labour MP Tony Wright and Tory MP Richard Shepherd and warns that "charges could undermine the Act's benefits of increased openness and accountability and trust in the work of public authorities".

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