Latest Public Sector News

23.12.15

FoI minister opposes any law changes – unlike councils

Matthew Hancock, Cabinet Office minister in charge of Freedom of Information (FoI) laws, is opposed to any changes that could make it more difficult to obtain data, including introducing fees for requests or restricting access.

Sources close to the Cabinet Office told the Times that Hancock was never keen to see any changes to existing laws – revealing what the paper called “a split at the heart of the cabinet”.

The government’s Independent Commission on Freedom of Information is currently running an inquiry into the law that could suggest introducing charges, further protection for internal discussions and strengthening ministers’ veto power.

But the senior source told the paper that “if the inquiry came back with no changes, Matthew would be very happy.”

The Cabinet Office has not submitted any recommendations to the commission to change the legislation.

Similarly, just last week Lord Kenslake, former head of the Civil Service, opposed curbing the existing laws, claiming there was a “yawning gap between the governing and the governed in this country”.

According to the Times, former Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, justice secretary Michael Gove and leader of the Commons Chris Grayling are all believed to support restricting access to government information even further.

Councils have also called for tighter controls of FoI requests, with the LGA submitting evidence to the commission’s consultation suggesting fees could be introduced, and that the time authorities spend responding them should be lowered from 18 hours to eight.

“The LGA recommends that applicants are required to set out the public interest in disclosing the information, with the provision that an authority is not obliged to respond if this information is not clearly set out,” the response said.

“The LGA supports the overwhelming view of local authorities in favour of reducing the burden of FoI through stricter controls and/or reducing the fee limit in order to focus resources on disclosure of information on grounds of genuine public interest, rather than on commercial or research interest or on handling frivolous or vexatious requests.”

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