The government will not make any “legal” changes to the Freedom of Information Act following the Independent Commission’s review of the law, the Cabinet Office has said.
The announcement, from Matt Hancock, the minister responsible for FOI and transparency policy, could mark a significant U-Turn to stop any changes recomended by the five-person panel. Findings from the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information, as well as the government’s response, are due to be published today.
“We will not make any legal changes to FII,” Hackcock is reported as saying ahead of the Commission’s findings. Instead Hancock said the review-panel, which has been criticised as being a stitch-up and included former Labour minister Jack Straw, has found the FOI Act is working well.
The Commission was initially formed in July 2015 and has received significant opposition from members of the public, civil society and the press. More than 85,000 people signed a petition opposing changes to the FOI Act; 140 press and campaign groups sent a letter to David Cameron opposing changes; and both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties have called for it to be scrapped. A full timeline of the Commission’s work can be found here.
The report from the Commission is believed to call for strengthening of the Ministerial Veto, following government’s loss of the Prince Charles’ letters case. BBC journalist Martin Rosenbaum tweeted that the review is due to propose some changes but the government, as supported by Hancock’s comments, has decided not to bring any legislation.
Members of the Commission had previously said they would look at introducing charges for those making FOI requests – however this has reportedly been dropped as it would hamper media investigations.
FOI Commission and govt response out later today both state that introducing FOI fees would hamper important media investigations
— Martin Rosenbaum (@rosenbaum6) March 1, 2016
While the report is yet to be published the statement from Hancock is likely to be greeted with caution from FOI campaigners.
Hancock, speaking to reporters, also said that the government would look to proactively publish more information around public sector spending.
“We will spread transparency throughout public services, making sure all public bodies routinely publish details of senior pay and perks. After all, taxpayers should know if their money is funding a company car or a big pay off.”