Cross-party motion highlights MPs' concern over FOI proposal

Journalists have been urged to encourage their local MPs to back a cross-party early day motion opposing government proposals to water down the Freedom of Information Act.

The move comes after a month of campaigning by Press Gazette against proposals to massively increase the number of FoI requests rejected on cost grounds — irrespective of the public interest.

The MPs tabling the motion are Tony Wright (Labour and chairman of the Public Administration Committee), Alan Beith (LibDem and chairman of the Constitutional Affairs Committee), Dominic Grieve (Conservative and shadow attorney general), Mark Fisher (Lab), Richard Shepherd (Con) and Simon Hughes (LibDem).

Grieve said imposing curbs on the basis of cost — as proposed by the Government under the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Regulations 2007 — rendered the Act "worthless".

He said: "The EDM is designed to highlight our concern that the Government appears to be backsliding over its commitments to the Freedom of Information Act because if cost means that they no longer supply the information then the Act becomes worthless."

The motion says: "This House expresses concern that the proposed new fees regulations under the Freedom of Information Act would allow authorities to refuse on cost grounds a high proportion of requests which they are currently required to answer; notes that the Government's consultation document recognises that this will have a greater impact on journalists, MPs, campaign groups and researchers than on private individuals; considers that such changes would undermine the Act's contribution to increased discussion of public affairs, accountability and trust in the work of public authorities; and calls on the government not to proceed with the proposals."

Assistant editor at the Eastern Daily Press Paul Durrant said: "The EDP will be asking all 13 MPs within our circulation area to sign it. I urge all newspapers to contact their MPs to sign up to this key pressure point on the Lord Chancellor's policy.

"We have found FoI an important tool in opening doors that would otherwise have remained closed, we've got some extremely good splashes on stories that would otherwise have remained unwritten."

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