The Campaign for Freedom of Information has welcomed the government’s decision, announced today, to drop proposals to restrict the Freedom of Information Act. Instead the government has announced that it will consult on extending the scope of the Act to certain kinds of private bodies and on changing the 30 year rule.
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “We are extremely pleased that instead of restricting the Act the government is proposing to extend it. The original proposals would have severely undermined the legislation and suggested that the government regretted introducing the FOI Act. Now for the first time we are seeing signs that it is taking pride in it instead.”
The Act allows private bodies with public functions and contactors providing services on behalf of a public authority to be brought within its scope. But there have been no moves to implement these provisions until now. The Campaign said that key candidates for inclusion would be PFI bodies, major public service contractors and private bodies providing GP and other services for the NHS.
The government was proposing two major changes to the FOI fees regulations, which would have made it easier for public authorities to refuse requests on costs grounds and severely restricted the amount of information that could be obtained under the Act. First, authorities would have been able to include the time they spend thinking about a request, consulting others about it and deciding whether the information should be released as well as the costs of searching for and extracting the requested information. A second proposal would have allowed the costs of unrelated requests made by the same individual or organisation to be aggregated and refused if their combined cost exceeded the limit.
The Government’s response to the ‘Draft Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations’ consultation paper is available from http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/cp2806-response.pdf
The consultation on extending the scope of the Act is available from http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/cp2707.htm
Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958