FOI Man comments on this week’s Westminster Hall debate on the future of FOI
This week there was a debate on the future of FOI following the post-legislative scrutiny. I have to admit that until it was already upon us, I had been unaware that it was happening. But I clearly wasn’t alone. Four MPs turned up, one of whom was Sir Alan Beith, who chaired the post-legislative scrutiny process, and another of which was the Minister responding for the Government, Helen Grant. So not really a debate so much as a friendly chat over coffee. Hopefully this is not a reflection of the worth MPs attach to FOI. (After all, the FOI debate was being run against a debate on another hot topic on everyone’s minds, reducing the voting age to 16…)
The Minister reiterated Government plans, set out in December in its response to the post-legislative scrutiny, to look at including more activities within the “acceptable limit” that can be used to refuse FOI requests on grounds of cost. She also referred to possible plans to limit “industrial” scale request making. Sir Alan was rightly critical of these proposals. Others have written about the potential impact of these changes, and you can read what the Save FOI Campaign thinks about it on their website.
We’re in the period of the phony war at the moment. The Government is preparing proposals, but we don’t yet know what the detail will be. Any firm proposal will need to be consulted upon before being enacted through amendments to regulations, so we’re a way off any change to the limits on FOI requests yet. This probably explains the low attendance at the Westminster Hall debate, but there’s still some fighting to do to save FOI from potentially damaging reform.