"Don’t kill the FoI"

by Stephen Tall on January 11, 2007

The Government’s refusal to introduce a Freedom of Information Act with teeth was the reason I resigned my Labour Party membership back in 1999. (You can find out just where it was lacking here.)

I no longer wanted to be associated with a political party which has no genuine commitment to empowering the individual against the over-mighty forces of either the state or commerce. Besides, I reckoned that if Labour didn’t have the guts to be radical on an issue like this, which is of minor importance to most people, they were even less likely to make a positive impact on more controversial issues which might attract the ire of the Daily Mail.

But, disappointingly circumscribed as it is, the FoI has dramatically helped to open up the workings of government, local and national. This has sometimes made uncomfortable the lives of both elected and unelected officials – which is just as it should be. I’m sure some public time and money has been wasted answering the repetitive queries of vexatious complainers. It is a small price to pay for the right of all of us to access information about the decisions of those who are in our employ.

But now the Government wishes to rein-in the FoI, and make it much easier for government to refuse to answer questions asked under its aegis. As today’s Press Gazette points out:

According to the Government’s own independent review, an extra 17,000 FoI questions (out of around 100,000) a year will be turned down after the rule changes — irrespective of the public interest in information being released.

The Gazette has launched a petition to urge Labour to change its mind, and retain some semblance of commitment to open and transparent government. No, I don’t hold out much hope, either. But that’s never been a reason not to try. Here’s what you’ll be putting your name to, and how you can do it:

We, the undersigned, urge the Government not to undermine the effectiveness of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 by passing into law the Freedom of Information and Data Protection (Appropriate Limit and Fees) Regulations 2007.

To sign the petition, email your name, job title and the organisation you work for to: dontkillfoi(at)wilmington.co.uk.