The Government today announced they do not intend to legislate to weaken the FOI Act in a significant climbdown following concerted opposition from the Labour Party, the public, campaign groups and the media.
The Government set-up a Commission on Freedom of Information last summer with Terms of Reference so narrow they were weighted in favour of weakening the Act. This sparked outrage from campaign groups and led Labour’s Tom Watson and Louise Haigh MP to set up a rival review looking at how the Act had worked and where it could be strengthened.
In the House of Commons the Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, said that FOI had been used “unnecessarily” and “abused” by journalists as a “research tool” to “create stories”. But last year alone journalists uncovered remarkable stories including details of hundreds of dangerous criminals on the run, how many times our data has been breached online, what police knew about child sexual exploitation, and details of Tory donors making millions in housing benefit.
Tens of thousands signed a petition opposing the Act and it became increasingly unclear how the Government would muster the necessary numbers in Parliament in order to water-down the Act, leading them to shelve the plans. The Government did however ignore a number of recommendations from Commissioners aimed at strengthening the Act.
Labour also established a Commission to look at how the Act can be strengthened which heard from figures from across Government, civil society and the media who all felt the Act was working well and that to weaken it would damage the transparency and accountability of Government.
Commenting, Louise Haigh MP Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office said:
“Through gritted teeth the Government have been forced into this remarkable government climbdown in the face of sustained opposition from Labour, civil society, campaigners and the media.
“After six months and after spending thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money the Government now think the FOI Act works well after all.”
“But the cat is out of the bag and far from weakening the Act, the Government’s Commissioners have instead called for it to be partially extended to private companies delivering outsourced services, for the process to be speeded up and for a strengthened Information Commissioner. The Tories may try to ignore the recommendations they don’t like and which call for the Act to be strengthened, but they are learning the hard way that you shouldn’t ask questions you don’t want the answer to."