Battle For FOI is “Eminently Winnable,” Says David Davis

Conservative MP David Davis has said he is confident that any attempt to weaken the Freedom of Information Act 2000 would be defeated by MPs.

Speaking at a cross-party event in Parliament on Monday (30 November) organised by the Campaign for Freedom of Information, Mr Davis said that any battle to preserve the Act against Government attempts to weaken it would be “eminently winnable.” 

However, he warned that the Government might try and bring in changes such as charging for FOI requests through secondary legislation, which bypasses much of the scrutiny that Acts of Parliament receive on their journey to becoming law.

Speaking for the Liberal Democrats, Lord Tyler said that any attempt to weaken FOI, whether through primary or secondary legislation would be “vigorously opposed” by members of the House of Lords, “who would not be brow-beaten on this”.

He described the Government’s creation of the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information to explore ideas such as charging for freedom of information requests as “not just a u-turn but a dangerous reverse”. 

He praised a briefing he had received from the News Media Association and endorsed the extension of FOI to private companies who carry out public services – one of NMA’s long-standing campaigning goals:

“Where taxpayers have invested in the delivery of a service they have a legitimate interest in how that money is being spent,” he said, adding that reforming the Act to encompass out-sourcing companies is “a natural extension of that principle.”

The Labour spokesperson on FOI, Shadow Cabinet Officer Louise Haigh, also backed extending the Act to out-sourced contractors, pointing out that the Act as currently drafted “doesn’t apply to vast swathes of institutions.”

In addition, Ms Haigh also indicated that she backed a statutory framework for the time taken up by the appeals process for FOI refusal notices.

When the NMA met with Ms Haigh last week, it emphasised the need for a limit on the amount of time that public authorities can spend using the internal review process to “long-grass” difficult complaints.

Labour will be holding its own Commission on Freedom of Information that will take oral submissions in the coming weeks and written submissions next year.