We won’t let min­is­ters de­stroy free­dom laws

MPs and peers from all par­ties join forces to pro­tect Act that ‘saves lives and saves money’

Daily Mail - - Front Page - By James Slack Po­lit­i­cal Edi­tor

A CROSS-party al­liance of peers and MPs last night vowed to in­flict a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat on the Govern­ment if it tries to ‘crip­ple’ Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion laws.

The Act – which has ex­posed a string of scan­dals and waste­ful pub­lic spend­ing – is cur­rently un­der threat from min­is­ters who claim it is ‘too costly’ to ad­min­is­ter.

The find­ings of a Govern­ment re­view, con­ducted by crit­ics of the leg­is­la­tion, are due to be re­leased by the end of the year.

But, at the launch of a cam­paign to save the Act yes­ter­day, se­nior Tory back­bencher David Davis said any at­tempt to un­der­mine the Act would be re­jected by Tory rebels.

Mr Davis said the open­ness the Act pro­vides ‘saves money, it saves lives and it leads to bet­ter Govern­ment’. He in­sisted more than a dozen Con­ser­va­tive MPs would op­pose pro­pos­als to wa­ter down the leg­is­la­tion – more than enough to de­feat a Govern­ment with a ma­jor­ity of only 12.

Mr Davis warned that min­is­ters could at­tempt to by­pass a full vote in the Com­mons by tabling a so­called statu­tory in­stru­ment. But he in­sisted peers would block any changes if MPs could not.

‘What­ever they come up with, we can find an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse in one house or another,’ Mr Davis told an all-par­lia­men­tary briefing or­gan­ised by the cross-party cam­paign to de­fend free­dom of in­for­ma­tion.

He de­scribed the com­mis­sion set up to re­view the act, which in­cludes ex-Labour Home Sec­re­tary Jack Straw – a critic of the leg­is­la­tion – as ‘a joke’ de­signed to ‘crip­ple’ it. Mr Davis went on to say: ‘They are all peo­ple who ei­ther for one rea­son or another ex­press scep­ti­cism about FOI, or have them­selves been em­bar­rassed by its op­er­a­tion.

‘ There is a sus­pi­cion this is de­signed to crip­ple FOI ei­ther by in­creas­ing charges or by fur­ther re­strict­ing ac­cess to pol­icy work or other ar­eas.’

Lib Dem peer Lord McNally, who was the min­is­ter in charge of the FOI Act in the last Par­lia­ment, said: ‘I was gen­uinely shocked by the set­ting up of this com­mis­sion.’

He roundly re­jected the ar­gu­ments given by the Govern­ment for the re­view; which are that it is too ex­pen­sive to ad­min­is­ter and has a ‘chill­ing’ ef­fect on the ad­vice civil ser­vants give to min­is­ters, for fear it will later be made pub­lic. He added: ‘I found no ev­i­dence of this “chill­ing” ef­fect ... and I would like to see crit­ics pro­duce any.’

Louise Haigh, Labour’s spokesman for civil ser­vice re­form, de­scribed the panel as ‘lop­sided’. She added: ‘It does not con­tain a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual who has writ­ten a Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion re­quest.’

The MP said that, far from tight­en­ing the Act, min­is­ters should ex­tend it to in­clude pri­vate care homes and any other or­gan­i­sa­tion that car­ries out work on be­half of the pub­lic sec­tor.

Last month, the Mail re­ported that min­is­ters are spend­ing 50 times more on spin, pro­pa­ganda and mar­ket­ing than it costs to ad­min­is­ter the Act.

It costs only £5.7mil­lion to ad­min­is­ter – com­pared to a to­tal bill of £289mil­lion for the Govern­ment Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Ser­vice.

In to­tal, the Govern­ment ap­points an as­ton­ish­ing 3,650 com­mu­ni­ca­tions staff, in­clud­ing armies of spin doc­tors. Last month, the Mail and Tax­Pay­ers’ Al­liance used al­most 6,000 FOI re­quests to ex­pose the as­ton­ish­ing scale of pay and perks in the pub­lic sec­tor.

The rev­e­la­tions in­cluded a hos­pi­tal boss on a pay pack­age of £1.2mil­lion and a po­lice chief who earned £700,000.

One as­sis­tant chief con­sta­ble was paid a £54,000 al­lowance from the pub­lic purse to move house. It took al­most 6,000 re­quests un­der FOI for the Mail and the Tax­Pay­ers’ Al­liance to fully un­cover the ex­tent of this tax­payer-funded ex­cess.

Jour­nal­ists and cam­paign­ers in­sist the law, which was in­tro­duced 15 years ago, is a cru­cial tool in scru­ti­n­is­ing the con­duct and per­for­mance of those who gov­ern in the pub­lic’s name.

FOI helped to ex­pose the MPs’ ex­penses scan­dal and many ex­am­ples of pub­lic- sec­tor neg­li­gence and mal­prac­tice.

The Act is not only used by jour­nal­ists but also by mem­bers of the pub­lic and char­i­ties as well as cam­paign groups.

Com­ment – Page 16

Prom­ise: MP David Davis

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.