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Information 'will be free' under new Act

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, has told journalists that requests for information under the new Freedom of Information Act will be free of charge in the vast majority of cases.

Addressing the Society of Editors conference, he said there would be no charge for information that costs public bodies less than £450 and central government less than £600 to produce.

“No individual should be priced out of the right to know,” the Lord Chancellor told delegates during a debate on the new act due to come into force next January. “So I am pleased to announce today, that for the vast majority of cases there will be no charge for information supplied under the Freedom of Information Act. Freedom of Information really means free information.”

He added that the Government would reimburse councils for any extra costs falling on them under the Act.

He said: “This is the right approach. And it confirms our commitment to take an open government available to all.”

The announcement was welcomed by the other speakers in the debate. Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, said: “It is a very important decision and it’s a very positive sign for the legislation.”

Janet Paraskeva, chief executive of The Law Society, said: “It’s an important statement of the Government’s commitment to the Act and to making it work for everyone.”

She added: “It allows all of us access to more information about how government is done.”

Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, said that the Act would cover over 100,000 public bodies. He said that there were 23 exemptions, 16 of which are qualified, meaning they would be subject to a public interest test.

Some delegates questioned how public interest would be defined, and whether ministers would be tempted to use their veto on the release of information. Others questioned whether the Act would conflict with the Data Protection Act.

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