MPs move to axe FoI restrictions

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.

The
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.

But an
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
undesirable”.

“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.”

At present,
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.

A series
of requests from the same company, organisation or individual – even if
the requests are on different topics – could also be lumped together
and refused.

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.

“Gordon
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.”

(source)

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About IanPJ

Ian Parker-Joseph, former Leader of the Libertarian Party UK, who currently heads PDPS Internet Hosting and the Personal Deed Poll Services company, has been an IT industry professional for over 20 years, providing Business Consulting, Programme and Project Management, specialising in the recovery of Projects that have failed in a process driven world. Ian’s experience is not limited to the UK, and he has successfully delivered projects in the Middle East, Africa, US, Russia, Poland, France and Germany. Working within different cultures, Ian has occupied high profile roles within multi-nationals such as Nortel and Cable & Wireless. These experiences have given Ian an excellent insight into world events, and the way that they can shape our own national future. His extensive overseas experiences have made him all too aware of how the UK interacts with its near neighbours, its place in the Commonwealth, and how our nation fits into the wider world. He is determined to rebuild many of the friendships and commercial relationships with other nations that have been sadly neglected over the years, and would like to see greater energy and food security in these countries, for the benefit of all. Ian is a vocal advocate of small government, individual freedom, low taxation and a minimum of regulation. Ian believes deeply and passionately in freedom and independence in all areas of life, and is now bringing his professional experiences to bear in the world of politics.
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