'Senior Whitehall sources' tell Independent Heywood is opposed to FoI fees - but does have ministerial veto concerns - Press Gazette

'Senior Whitehall sources' tell Independent Heywood is opposed to FoI fees - but does have ministerial veto concerns

The head of the Civil Service reportedly believes the Freedom of Information Act does not need fundamental reform.

"Senior Whitehall sources" have told The Independent Sir Jeremy Heywood is opposed to introducing FoI fees and reduced cost limits.

But Heywood was concerned about the Supreme Court ruling ordering publication of Prince Charles’s “black spider memos”.

The Independent was told the Civil Service's FoI concern was "narrowly focused" on this and Heywood did want the legislation to be "tightened to make it clear what categories of information should be subject to ministerial veto" (The Independent's, rather than the sources', wording is quoted in this paragraph).

A Whitehall source told the newspaper: “The truth is that everybody thought the legislation as it stood would protect such information, but that is not the way it has been interpreted by the courts…

“Sir Jeremy has made clear that he wants the civil service to be more open, not less.”

Heywood has previously condemned the act for having a “chilling effect” on the workings of government and been the focus of some newspaper coverage of attempts to weaken the act.

In September, Sun editor Tony Gallagher said FoI was “under assault as never before… and I think it’s pretty obvious that the Government is determined to try and rein in Freedom of Information”.

However, he added that the Government and ministers are a “side show”: “The people that are really behind this, and the people that hate this even more, is the Civil Service machine.

“So I think it’s fair to say that the far more guilty party in this would be the Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood.”

And the Daily Mail, which refers to Heywood as “Sir Cover-Up”, has run several stories in recent months reporting that he wants to limit FoI.

However, The Independent’s editorial said its story showed Heywood is now “committed to maintaining freedom of information”.

This comes one day after The Times quoted Cabinet Office sources as saying Matthew Hancock, the minister in charge of FoI, does not want to weaken the act.

Sir Bob Kerslake, former head of the Civil Service, also gave his backing to the act last week.

And earlier this month “senior ministers” told The Sun: “Nobody in the Government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato.”

This apparent retreat was triggered by a public backlash over the suggestion the act could be weakened.

More than 42,000 people have signed a Press Gazette petition calling on Hancock and the Government not to weaken the act.

This petition, part of the wider Hands Off FoI campaign, was launched because of widespread concerns that the Government's Independent Commission on Freedom of Information will suggest the introduction of FoI charges, further protection for internal discussions and strengthened ministerial veto.



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