Daily Mail warns that 'thinking time' and 'spending limit' changes could further 'water down' Freedom of Information Act

The Daily Mail has attacked proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act.

Earlier this week, campaigners claimed that proposals from Justice Secretary Michael Gove would "significantly restrict" the act.

Gove confirmed this week that the Government plans to make sure confidential advice given to ministers by civil servants is protected from publication.

The Mail reports today that there are also plans to reduce spending limits on FoIs and for "thinking time" to be considered in cost rejections. This mirrors a bid to water down the Freedom of Information Act which was previously scrapped following a Press Gazette campaign in 2007.

The newspaper's editorial today described FoI as "an invaluable weapon in the fight for the public's right to know".

Criticising the proposed changes, the Mail noted that it has been suggested "civil servants' 'thinking time' should be factored into the cost – which would mean that if they scratched their heads and sucked their Biros for long enough, they would be allowed to turn down an inquiry". It also criticised the proposed lowering of the "spending limit for collating data".

The newspaper suggested that Gove, a former journalist at The Times and BBC, is "under pressure from Whitehall". But it added that the "highly principled" Conservative should be trusted to "resist any attempt to water down the act".

Listing a number of scandals that have been revealed as a result of FoI, the Mail's editorial said: "Indeed, despite all its limitations (and officials have eagerly exploited loopholes that allow them to rebuff FoI requests), the Act has been an invaluable weapon in the fight for the public’s right to know.

"So how depressing it is that, under pressure from Whitehall, Michael Gove is said to be looking at decidedly questionable ways of making it easier to withhold information."

It added: "After David Cameron promised ‘a new era of transparency in government’, this paper trusts that the highly principled Mr Gove, with his background as a journalist, will resist any attempt to water down the Act.

"[Former prime minister Tony] Blair may see its introduction as one of his worst blunders. But isn’t this, in itself, a sure sign that it was about the best thing he did?"

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