AddThis SmartLayers

Fresh Govt consultation on FOI to ask: 'Should we change Act at all?'

A further 12 weeks of consultation on changing the Freedom of Information Act will ask people to comment on the principle of making a change at all.

The Government wanted to look again at FOI to deal with the problem of requests it feared were “disproportionately burdensome” on public authority resources.

The supplementary consultation is specifically aimed at members of the public, public authorities, the media, and campaign groups who have an interest in the proposed changes.

Proposals to change FOI fees and limit the number of requests were announced last December and the initial consultation period ended on March 8. The new consultation period will close on June 21.

The Society of Editors has been leading the campaign against the proposed changes and director Bob Satchwell said today: “We are very pleased that the Government has decided to look at the principles behind the proposed changes as well as the detailed proposals themselves.

“The media was united in its opposition to the proposals, and we are very pleased that ministers have taken account of our views. We shall certainly be responding again to this new consultation.”

He said ministers had “clearly” taken account of the huge response from editors in all parts of the media.

There have been more than 200 responses to the consultation exercise, with a wide range of comments received.

The responses to the consultation exercise will be published along with any responses to the new paper in due course.

Some of the responses received have commented on the principle of making these changes and other responses have stated they would have welcomed an opportunity to comment on the principle of the changes or have suggested that there might be better ways of tackling those cases which create a burden on public authorities.

The Government is stressing that it is keen to hear all those views, and in the new paper asks:

  • 1. Do you agree that the FOI Fees Regulations should be amended to deal with the problem of disproportionately burdensome requests?
  • 2. Do you consider that the draft regulations attached to consultation paper CP 28/06 would succeed in dealing with the problem? If not do you have any other suggestions for dealing with disproportionately burdensome requests?
  • 3. Do you wish to make any other comments on the principles or details of the proposals set out in consultation paper CP 28/06?

    Information rights minister Baroness Catherine Ashton said: “The Freedom of Information Act has benefited the public enormously. We must continue to build on its success.

    “It is entirely right a reasonable amount of money and time is spent dealing with requests for information. But public money is limited and it is the Government’s responsibility to ensure it is not unduly diverted from supporting the delivery of frontline services.

    “We would like to hear all views and ensure people have the opportunity to comment fully, so we have today published a supplementary paper on the consultation, inviting further comments.”

    Santha Rasaiah, political editorial and regulatory affairs director with the Newspaper Society, said: “The Newspaper Society welcomes the Government’s decision to enlarge and extend its FoI consultation with the announcement that it will now consult on whether changes are necessary, not just how restrictions are to be introduced.

    “The Newspaper Society remains firmly opposed to the government’s proposals to undermine the FoI Act and urges regional newspaper editors to continue to press the government to abandon its plans.”

    People in the media are being urged to read the new consultation document and respond to it here.