The Government should drop its plan to
restrict access to freedom of information because it could allow public
bodies to dodge difficult or embarrassing questions, MPs said.
Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, wants to limit the Freedom
of Information (FoI) Act in a bid to stop MPs and journalists getting
hold of Government secrets.
all-party Commons committee criticised ministers' failure to produce
any proof the changes were necessary. The Constitutional Affairs Select
Committee described the proposals as “unnecessary, unpopular and
“We conclude that the
proposed regime could result in public authorities avoiding answers to
embarrassing, contentious or high-profile cases,” the report said. “No
clear evidence to support the (department's) decision that a change to
the charging regime was necessary has been published.”
An analysis of the costs and benefits of the proposed limits was incomplete, it added.
The committee also criticised a Private
Member's Bill which seeks to exempt MPs from FoI rules. Committee
chairman Alan Beith said: “The FoI Act works. It enhances the rights of
the public. Neither the Government nor MPs should be seeking to limit
its effectiveness, and there is no evidence here to support either the
Government's proposals on fees or the Bill. I am hopeful that both will
now be dropped.”
Government departments usually have to answer requests that cost them
less than £600 to process. But Lord Falconer proposed including within
the £600 limit the time taken by officials to consider each request – a
move which would massively increase the number of applications turned
down on cost grounds.
of requests from the same company, organisation or individual – even if
the requests are on different topics – could also be lumped together
Director of the
Campaign for Freedom of Information, Maurice Frankel, said: “The
Government has been trying to sabotage the Freedom of Information Act
by restricting the right of access and supporting David Maclean's Bill
to exempt Parliament.
Brown should kill off both sets of malodorous proposals. He should tell
ministers to stop gnashing their teeth and demonstrate that they are
committed to and proud of their legislation.”