The Government is facing pressure from MPs to think again about charging journalists substantially higher fees than first contemplated for requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act.
MPs returned from their week-long break this week to back the initiative launched by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and supported by the Society of Editors.
Twenty eight MPs added their names in support on Monday, boosting the number backing the campaign to 86.
Regional editors have begun lobbying MPs after Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, accused the government of going back on its word.
“When the act was going through we were told the costs would be kept to a minimum,” Satchwell said. “The position has now been reversed.”
In the House of Commons, ministers promised the public would be charged no more than 10 per cent of the marginal cost of finding the information, plus copying costs.
The campaign is concerned that the Government is considering introducing fees that are as much as six to ten times higher.
Constitutional Affairs minister Lord Filkin attempted to defend the Government when it came under attack from Lord McNally, Liberal Democrat deputy leader in the Lords.
McNally contrasted Labour’s original commitment to freedom of information with the “culture of secrecy” which he said was now embedded in Whitehall.
Lord Filkin replied that the cost of information requests would be borne substantially by public sector bodies.
But he said: “The only caveat is, and has always been, the cap on the amount of time and effort that we will put into very obscure or complex requests.”
He said: “The Government will bring forward fees regulations under the act in good time for their coming into effect in January 2005.
“We have published draft regulations, and we will be bringing forward to Parliament a final version by October.”
The scale of the Labour backbench revolt could, however, force the government to think again.
By David Rose