Following the Tories’ general election victory in May, a commission was established to review the operation of the Freedom of Information Act which was widely expected to lead to new restrictions on openness.
However the plan provoked a major backlash from journalism industry leaders as well as the public, and according to a report in The Sun, ministers are now getting “cold feet” over the plan.
More than 30,000 responses were received to the commission’s call for evidence ahead of the review – but it has emerged that, despite having set up the commission, the government has not submitted any evidence itself.
According to today’s report, senior ministers say they are “decidedly unenthusiastic” about making any changes to the legislation.
The newspaper quotes a senior Tory minister as saying: “Nobody in the government wants to touch this now, it’s a very hot political potato.”
Following the commission’s call for evidence, HTFP submitted its archive of 204 FoI stories showing how regional newspapers have used the FoI Act in the public interest.
Commenting on today’s report, SoE executive director Bob Satchwell said: “If this is true ministers are clearly seeing sense.
“They are beginning to realise that the review was misplaced and mistimed because the overwhelming evidence shown by so many media organisations since we launched the #HandsoffFOI campaign with HTFP and Press Gazette at our conference in October is that the FOI Act is valued by the public.
“The Act needs to be strengthened rather than watered down. Until we know for sure what the government’s intentions are we will maintain the pressure.”
Tory MP David Davis, a long-standing supporter of FoI, added: “It would appear ministers may finally be seeing sense. FoI may be difficult for the Government, but is an incredibly valuable tool for everyone else.”
Earlier the former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake called on the government to shelve plans to curb freedom of information laws, saying Britain needs more open government, not less.
He told The Times: “Of course FoI has a cost but the benefits far outweigh these. The public will draw their own conclusions about any attempt by politicians and officials to restrict their legitimate access to information.”