Constitutional Affairs Committee press notice no. 38

Session 2005-06, 16 October 2006

Commenting on the proposals to amend the Freedom of Information Fees Regulations as set out in the Government Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee Report: Freedom of Information - one year on, Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

The Committee welcomes the fact that the Government says it does not intend to introduce a flat fee for all FOI requests. However we do not support the changes which the Government is minded to introduce.

These would allow public authorities to include reading, consideration and consultation time in calculating the appropriate limit above which requests could be refused on cost grounds. This is a measure which is open to abuse by authorities. Authorities would have the discretion to decide how long they needed to consider whether to release information and we are concerned that requesters could be denied access to information whenever authorities considered it would take them too long to provide it. In the same way, if public authorities were permitted to aggregate requests made by any one requester for the purposes of calculating these limits, it could arbitrarily exclude otherwise legitimate requests, just because the requester was seeking other information from that authority at the same time.

These changes, if implemented, would fly in the face of the Government's stated desire of encouraging an open culture and have the potential to block important requests where it would be in the public interest to disclose information. I reiterate the Committee's opinion that we see no need to change the FOI Fees Regulations.

We will be reviewing in more detail the other issues covered in the Government's Response.

Notes:

1. The Government Response to the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee Report: Freedom of Information€”one year on (Cm 6937) is available via the Department for Constitutional Affairs website: www.dca.gov.uk

2. The Committee's reports on FOI, Freedom of Information€”one year on (HC 991) and Freedom of Information Act 2000€”progress towards implementation (HC 79, Session 2004-05) are available via the Reports and Publications page of the Committee's website: www.parliament.uk/conaffcom

3. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), James Brokenshire MP, David Howarth MP, Siân James MP, Mr Piara S Khabra MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP, Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Jeremy Wright MP