TORY ministers were shamed yesterday into shelving their plans to make the public pay to scrutinise the government.
The government launched a review of the Freedom of Information Act last July, claiming the current law did not recognise the “need for a ‘safe space’ for policy development.”
Charging fees to submit requests were among proposals considered, but Cabinet Office Minister Matt Hancock has now conceded that would be “inappropriate.”
His climbdown came on the day that the government’s own review into the law concluded it was “generally working well.”
The independent commission’s report actually suggested that in some areas “the right of access should be increased.”
Labour deputy leader Tom Watson said the government had made a “remarkable government climbdown in the face of sustained opposition.”
He called for the government to reveal the cost of the FoI Commission.
And he told Mr Hancock: “If the cost is not disclosed we will submit an FoI request that his department will no doubt process speedily.”
Labour and unions also say they will now press for the transparency law to be extended to cover privateers who run government contracts.
Campaign for Freedom of Information’s Maurice Frankel said the move means “we are not going to see the public’s rights being substantially undermined.
“They have taken the public temperature and they have jumped away with scorched hands.”
Legal action charity Reprieve director Maya Foa highlighted FoI’s vital role in uncovering government wrongdoing — “from waste and incompetence to complicity in human rights abuses.”
Arguing that plans to dilute FoI “should never have been introduced,” she said: “Let’s hope this will make ministers think twice before attempting to undermine the British public’s right to know.”
But that did not deter Home Secretary Theresa May from publishing the Investigatory Powers Bill yesterday, which will make it easier for the police to access private phone and internet records.
Law professors warned the Star last month that the “snooper’s charter” could pave the way for a “digital-age” blacklisting scandal.