Committee says FoI proposals should be scrapped

A committee of MPs has urged ministers to scrap proposals to water down the Freedom of Information Act by changing the fees regime.

In a report released this week, the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee said the Government should abandon what it called the ‘unnecessary, unpopular and undesirable’reforms.

Under the proposed Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations it would become easier for public bodies to reach the threshold beyond which FoI requests may be rejected on cost grounds. The plan would also allow public bodies to treat unrelated FoI requests from the same organisation as a single request.

The committee questioned what it called the ‘insufficient’analysis that the Government provided to justify its proposals.

It also criticised the Government for not taking into account that the most time-consuming requests are often those of the greatest public interest.

Citing evidence submitted by The Guardian, the committee agreed that the most complex and politically-sensitive requests are likely to be the most affected if the plan were to come into force.

The report criticised the former Department for Constitutional Affairs – now named the Ministry of Justice – for failing to take into account the public benefits of FoI in its analysis.

‘The focus of the DCA’s work has been entirely on cost reduction, despite the absence of any evidence that such measures were necessary,’the report said.

Director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information Maurice Frankel said: ‘The Government has been trying to sabotage the Freedom of Information Act by restricting the right of access and supporting David Maclean’s bill to exempt Parliament.

‘Gordon Brown should kill off both sets of malodorous proposals. He should tell ministers to stop gnashing their teeth and demonstrate that they are committed to and proud of their legislation.”

More than 1,100 journalists have signed a Press Gazette petition against the proposals.

Last week, the Government completed a second round of consultations on its proposals. It received 250 responses.

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