Media and campaign groups urge David Cameron not to impose 'severe' new restrictions on Freedom of Information Act

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 Walsh
Chief Executive
Action against Medical Accidents
 
Roger Wicks
Director of Policy and Campaigns
Action on Hearing Loss
 
Davina James-Hanman
Director
Against Violence & Abuse
 
Andrew Tyler
Director
Animal Aid
 
David Banisar
Senior Legal Counsel
Article 19
 
Nick Pickles
Director
Big Brother Watch
 
Pavan Dhaliwal
Head of Public Affairs
British Humanist Association
 
Stephen Bowen
Director
British Institute of Human Rights
 
Nasreen Rehman
Chair
British Muslims for Secular Democracy
 
Gerry Morrissey
General Secretary
Broadcasting, Entertainment, Cinematograph and Theatre Union
 
Jo Harvey Barringer
Chair of Trustees
Broken Rainbow UK
 
Michelle Thew
Chief Executive Officer
BUAV
 
Ann Feltham
Parliamentary Co-ordinator
Campaign Against Arms Trade
 
Stephen Joseph
Chief Executive
Campaign for Better Transport
 
Maurice Frankel
Director
Campaign for Freedom of Information
 
Barry White
National Organiser
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom
 
Peter Newell
Co-ordinator
Children are unbeatable! Alliance
 
Compact Voice
Marilyn Croser
Co-ordinator
Corporate Responsibility Coalition
 
Dr Michele Lamb
Director
Crucible Centre for Human Rights Research
 
Charles Garside
Assistant Editor
Daily Mail
 
Anthony Zacharzewski
Chief Executive
Democratic Society
 
Leander Neckles
Board Member
Equanomics-UK
 
Heather Brooke FOI campaigner
Gita Parihar
Head of Legal
Friends of the Earth
 
Chris Whitwell
Director
Friends, Families and Travellers Community Base
 
Will Moy
Director
Full Fact
 
Bernard Reed
Trustee
Gender Identity Research and Education Society
 
Jan Thompson
Managing Editor
Guardian News & Media
 
Henrietta Doyle
Policy Officer
Inclusion London
 
Andy Whitmore
Indigenous Peoples Links
 
Jenny Hirst
Co-chair
Insulin Dependent Diabetes Trust
 
Anne Thurston
Director
International Records Management Trust
 
Simon Burall
Director
Involve
 
Jonathan Stevenson
Campaigns and Communications Officer
Jubilee Debt Campaign
 
Ratna Lachman
Director
JUST West Yorkshire
 
Julie Bishop
Director
Law Centres Network
 
Michael Cross
News Editor
Law Society Gazette
 
Joe Duckworth
Chief Executive
League Against Cruel Sports
 
Russell Levy
Head of Clinical Negligence
Leigh Day
 
James Welch
Legal Director
Liberty
 
Doug Wills
Managing Editor
London Evening Standard, Independent & Independent on Sunday
 
Richard Solly
Co-ordinator
London Mining Network
 
Ruth Grove-White
Policy Director
Migrants’ Rights Network
 
Paul Farmer
Chief Executive Officer
Mind
 
Tom Steinberg
Director
MySociety
 
Keith Porteous Wood
Executive Director
National Secular Society
 
Michelle Stanistreet
General Secretary
National Union of Journalists
 
Santha Rasaiah
Political, Editorial and Regulatory Affairs Director
Newspaper Society
 
Libby Anderson
Policy Director
OneKind
 
Magnus Nome
Editor-in-Chief
Open Democracy
 
Jonathan Gray
Director of Policy & Ideas
Open Knowledge Foundation
 
Jim Killock
Executive Director
Open Rights Group
 
Chris Taggart
CEO and co-founder
OpenCorporates
 
Louise Hazan
Campaigns Manager
People & Planet
 
Tim Davies
Co-director
Practical Participation
 
Dominic Ponsford
Editor
Press Gazette
 
Nicki Rensten
Prisoners’ Advice Service
 
Cathy James
Chief Executive
Public Concern at Work
 
Andy Rowell
Director
Public Interest Investigations
 
Richard Hawkins
Director
Public Interest Research Centre
 
David Hall-Matthews
Managing Director
Publish What You Fund
 
Andy Gregg
Chief Executive
Race on the Agenda
 
Maurice Wren
Chief Executive
Refugee Council
 
Graham Smith
Chief Executive Officer
Republic
 
Lucas Amin
Co-founder and Operations Director
Request Initiative
 
Susan Bryant
Director
Rights Watch (UK)
 
Amy Aeron-Thomas
Executive Director
RoadPeace
 
Paul Gibbons
Save FOI
 
Bob Satchwell
Executive Director
Society of Editors
 
Tamasin Cave
Director
Spinwatch
 
Jonathan Isaby
Political Director
Taxpayers’ Alliance
 
Gavin Aitchison
News Editor
The Press in York
 
Penelope Gibbs
Director
Transform Justice
 
Alexandra Runswick
Director
Unlock Democracy
 
Vivienne Hayes
Chief Executive Officer
Women’s Resource Centre

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