In the unlikely event the Liberal Democracy Party wins June’s general election, it has promised to improve the Freedom of Information Act.
Party leader Tim Farron says in his election manifesto that he will get rid of the controversial veto that ministers can apply to FOI requests and also stop public authorities from withholding information.
“End the ministerial veto on release of information under the Freedom of Information Act, and take steps to reduce the proportion of FOI requests where information is withheld by government departments,” the manifesto says.
The ministerial veto – under Section 53(2) of the FOI Act – allows ministers to block publication of information under the FOI Act. The section allows a minister to overrule a decision by the Information Commissioner and stop publication of information.
Ministers have used the veto several times: these are outlined by the BBC here. Most famously, the veto was used by Dominic Grieve to block the publication of Prince Charles’ Black Spider memos. Although this was ruled unlawful by the Supreme court.
Removing the veto would require legislation from the Lib Dems, but it could be achieved. The other part of their pledge is a little more wooly though. There’s no concrete proposal about how to stop public bodies from withholding information under the FOI Act. As such, this proposal should be only taken on face value.