MPs call for views on FOI changes

A committee of MPs will hold a one-off hearing on the Government's proposed changes to the Freedom of Information Act fees regime next month, and is calling for interested parties to submit evidence.

The Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, which oversees the government department responsible for FOI, will be holding a one-off evidence session on the proposed changes to the open government law on 6 March.

In a report published last June, the same committee recommended that the Government should make no changes to the FOI fees structure.

The committee's chairman, Liberal Democrat MP Alan Beith, said: "We are extremely concerned that the Government might go ahead with these changes, which are very widely opposed. That's why we are taking further evidence at this stage."

In a statement announcing the session, the committee called for submissions from relevant interested parties, and requested examples of successful FOI requests that might be rejected if the proposed changes come into force.

Submissions of no more than 3,000 words should be sent to the Clerk of the Committee by Friday 16 February 2007, the statement said.

Press Gazette is campaigning against the implementation of the draft FOI Fees Regulations, because many journalists fear the changes will make the law less useful for prising information from public sector bodies.

The proposed changes would make it easier for the public bodies to reject FOI requests on cost grounds because they would be allowed to count the time they spend deliberating while calculating the cost of processing the request.

The new fees regime would also allow public bodies to aggregate multiple, unrelated requests from the same organisation, a change which could limit newsrooms to just a handful of requests to a public body each year.

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