Debate on future of FoI told 'use it or lose it' and get information by being 'a stubborn pain in the ass'

A debate on the future of the Freedom of Information Act was told "use it or lose it”.

The event at City University in London was held after news that the Government had backed down on proposals to water down the act by possibly imposing charges on requests and other restrictions.

Heather Brooke, who fought a five-year FoI battle to secure disclosure of MPs' expenses, said attempts to curb FoI had failed “because there is such a broad community of people who are using it now”, and she added: "It’s imperative on people to use it or lose it."

Asked about her general advice on making best use of the act, Brooke said: “The main advice is to just be a totally stubborn, tenacious pain in the ass to those people, because that’s what really wins the day.”

Guardian journalist Rob Evans, who fought an FoI battle which led to the disclosure of a series of Prince Charles’s so-called “black spider” letters to Ministers, told the debate: “The thing that saves the act is its got a broad base of use, lots of people are using it, and therefore they value it, and so when the government comes along and tries to attack it, people rally around and defend it.”   

TaxPayers’ Alliance chief executive Jonathan Isaby said he was delighted with the very broad coalition of journalists, campaigners and pressure groups who came together to fight for the FoI Act.

“I think that’s the point – a bit like Ronald Reagan said, ‘freedom is only one generation away from extinction’,” he said, “you’ve got to fight for it with each generation, and in our own way the same thing applies for FoI.”

He added: “The TaxPayers’ Alliance takes the view that basically anything being done by politicians, bureaucrats or anyone in the public sector with tax payers’ money ought to be subject to the highest level of scrutiny.”

The debate at City University followed the announcement by Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock on 1 March that the Government had decided that it would not make any changes to FoI legislation as a review by an Independent Commission had found it to be “working well”.

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