The recent controversy surrounding the progress of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill in the Westminster Parliament and the Department for Constitutional Affairs' back down in relation to the FOI fees consultation has provided much fodder for debate about the impact and operation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. This article provides a brief update of these events.
We reported, in March this year on the introduction of the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill, a Private Members bill in the name of former Conservative chief whip David Maclean. The Bill seeks to remove both Houses of Parliament from Schedule 1 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, which lists the public bodies to which the Act applies. In addition, the Bill seeks to amend the Act to exempt communications between MPs and public bodies from the provisions of the Act.
The Bill has already progressed through Committee stage but when it was considered by the House last week the debate ran out of time due to the "filibuster" tactics employed by Parliamentarians opposed to the Bill. Those involved managed to draw out the debate for fully five hours, thus preventing the Bill from proceeding to the next stage. Usually, for Private Member's bills, such a move would effectively leave the bill to languish for some time. However, due to the supremely unusual occurrence of all six bills above it not being ready it was to be debated again on Friday 27 April. Many discontented rumblings were heard from opponents to the Bill following that announcement.
Yet, at the last minute, the Bill's sponsor delayed consideration of the Bill for another month. It will be interesting to see what happens to the progress of the Bill this month.
In other FOI developments, an initial consultation on draft Regulations to amend the fees regime to include more activities in the assessment of costs of responding to requests and combine the costs of requests from the same requester within a three month period closed in March 2007. However, as a result of a number of adverse comments on the proposals, the Government has now issued a supplementary paper inviting views on the principle of amending the 2004 Regulations at all. Responses can also provide further views on the initial consultation, if they wish. This new consultation closes on 21 June 2007.