The UK Government is to launch two consultations, later this year, on changes to the Freedom of Information Act – these could potentially weaken the FOI Act.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes, who took over the responsibility for FOI earlier this year, made the announcement in Parliament.
The Lib Dem MP said there will be two consultations.
One of which will be to ensure the Act is not abused and the other will look at extending the Act to other public authorities who are not included at present.
It is highly likely that the consultations will seek to change the Act in a way that is detrimental to requesters.
Hughes said in Parliament:
“I well understand my hon. Friend’s point. There will be two consultations this year: first, on precisely such issues about the scope of the current legislation to make sure that it is not abused while we retain freedom of information as a principle of Government; and secondly, on extending it to other areas where we have not gone so far.”
From looking at recent statements from government they may try to clamp down on ‘industrial requests’ from those who make multiple requests to the same authority – a move that could damage local journalism and campaigners. This could be what Hughes referred to when using the word ‘abused’.
Also, following a review of the Act, Helen Grant MP said that thinking time could be included in the cost limits of the FOI Act and that it is important to reduce the burdens that FOI places on public authorities.
It is likely, in this website’s opinion, that consultations will intend to bring about increased limitations on the requesters ability to access information but use a sweetener of making more authorities subject to FOI to mask the negative changes.
Hughes also commented on private companies who are paid public money for services being included under FOI. He said that all contractors will have clauses in their contracts to ensure they comply with FOI requirements.
However this is already a common practice that is already included in many contracts and one that has been widely commented on already.