2015 Policy Motion: Freedom of Information

Proposer: Finola Kelly
Seconder: Stuart Weir

Unlock Democracy Notes:
Unlock Democracy is committed to building a better democracy.  We want to empower people to decide how to run their local communities and we want to limit the influence of big money in politics.

Recent efforts to achieve those objectives centred on our campaign to create a register of lobbyists.  Unfortunately Part 1 of the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act fell well short of that ambition.

Now we face another threat to the openness and transparency essential to a healthy democracy, and that is current review of our Freedom of Information Act.  Prompted by the Supreme Court ruling on HRH the Prince of Wales’s correspondence with Ministers, the government has set up an Independent Commission on Freedom of Information[i] to review the the Act.  The terms of reference for the Commission were set out by the Cabinet Office:

“The Commission will review the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘the Act’) to consider whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection, and whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a “safe space” for policy development and implementation and frank advice. The Commission may also consider the balance between the need to maintain public access to information, and the burden of the Act on public authorities, and whether change is needed to moderate that while maintaining public access to information.”

Any hope that this review will be politically neutral were undermined by the appointment of two known opponents to the Act, and the failure to appoint any champions of the Act.  At the first meeting of the Commission in October Journalists were not allowed to report on proceedings, except to report that the Commission has not ruled out charging for information requests.

Unlock Democracy Believes:
That Freedom of Information is a fundamental part of a healthy democracy and that as demonstrated by the post legislative scrutiny work carried out by the Justice Committee, the Freedom of Information Act 2000 works well. It found no evidence of a chilling effect on government decision making and rejected calls for restrictions on the way the Act currently operates. 

Unlock Democracy Resolves: 
Unlock Democracy will respond to the Commission’s call for evidence (deadline 20 November 2015) and will work with institutions, associations and individuals, including UD members, to defend the Freedom of Information Act  and to oppose attempts to reduce its reach.

The motion passed.