News 24th June 2015

Gove comments indicate government plans to weaken FOI | Campaign for Freedom of Information

by Tim Hughes

The Campaign for Freedom of Information, an Open Government Network member, has expressed concern at yesterday’s Commons statement by the Justice Secretary Michael Gove saying that the government would “revisit” the Freedom of Information Act to ensure that civil servants’ advice to ministers was protected so they could “speak candidly”.

The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said:

“the Information Commissioner and Tribunal already take steps to ensure that advice is protected where disclosure would harm the public interest. But it does not adopt a blanket approach. Mr Gove should know this: earlier this year the Tribunal ruled that the advice he had received as Education Secretary before cancelling Labour’s Building Schools for the Future programme should not be disclosed. Releasing it would expose the working relationship between ministers and officials and undermine the future provision of frank advice, it said. But in other cases it has ordered disclosure, particularly where the advice is anodyne or old or the arguments for confidentiality are implausible.”

The Campaign warned that Mr Gove’s comments suggest that he is planning to significantly restrict the FOI Act. It highlighted his suggestion that what the public need is access to “data” for example on public spending rather than information on how decisions have been reached. “The public needs both and the Act provides a vital element of scrutiny which should not be weakened” said Mr Frankel.

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