The Government's Independent Commission on Freedom of Information is turning into a "Christmas pantomime", Labour's deputy leader has said.
Tom Watson has described the commission's review as a "farce" and "waste of time and public money".
It comes after sources in the Government and Civil Service indicated they do not want the act to be weakened.
- "Senior ministers" told The Sun earlier this month: “Nobody in the Government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato”.
- Yesterday, The Times quoted a "senior source" close to the Cabinet Office saying Matthew Hancock, the minister in charge of FoI, does not want to weaken the act.
- And today's Independent quotes "senior Whitehall sources" saying Sir Jeremy Heywood, the head of the Civil Service, does not want fundamental reform of the act. He is said to be opposed to FoI fees and reduced cost limits, but is concerned with ministerial veto.
According to The Times, Hancock’s opposition to FoI changes “exposes a split at the heart of the cabinet”, with Francis Maude, the former Cabinet Office minister, justice secretary Michael Gove and Chris Grayling, leader of the Commons, believed to back changes.
Watson, who as well as being deputy leader of the opposition is shadow minister for the Cabinet Office and FoI, said: “The Government is turning the Freedom of Information review into a Christmas pantomime, with ministers pulling in different directions and arguing over whether to weaken it or save it.
“Cabinet Office minister Matt Hancock, whose department ordered the review of the FoI Act, apparently believes it should be saved. By making that clear he has prejudged the findings of the independent commission set up to review it and effectively neutered its members. That review has been a waste of time and public money. Even Sir Jeremy Heywood now accepts the Act works well.
“It's time for the Government to bring the curtain down on this farce, accept the act has been a success and confirm it will stay in its current form.”