The NUJ has welcomed the recommendation by a committee of MPs not to bring in charges for requests for Freedom of Information.
MPs on the Justice Select Committee, who scrutinised the effectiveness of the legislation, have concluded that the Freedom of Information Act is generally working well and its scope should not be diminished.
David Hencke, a senior investigative journalist for ExaroNEWS who worked at the Guardian for more than 30 years, gave evidence to the committee on behalf of the NUJ.
He said: "Journalists everywhere should be delighted that MPs have come down firmly against any charging for freedom of information requests which would have had a chilling effect on the free flow of information and the media's ability to dig out facts the authorities would like to keep quiet.
"The report also makes it clear that with private companies increasingly taking over the delivery of public services the next step forward should be insist that they sign up to contracts which make them as accountable as state providers. This is a positive step."
Sir Alan Beith MP, chair of the Justice Committee, said: “The Freedom of Information Act has enhanced the UK’s democratic system and made our public bodies more open, accountable and transparent. It has been a success and we do not wish to diminish its intended scope, or its effectiveness.
"The Act was never intended to prevent, limit, or stop the recording of policy discussions in Cabinet or at the highest levels of government, and we believe that its existing provisions, properly used, are sufficient to maintain the ‘safe space’ for such discussions...Evidence we have seen suggests that reducing the cost of FOI can be achieved if the way public authorities deal with requests is well-thought through. Complaints about the cost of FoI will ring hollow when made by public authorities which have failed to invest the time and effort needed to create an efficient freedom of information scheme.”
The MPs made a number of further recommendations:
- Higher fines should be imposed for destruction of information or data and the time limit should be removed on prosecution of these offences.
- The law should be amended to protect universities from having to disclose research and data before the research has been published.
- All public bodies subject to the Act should be required to publish data on the timeliness of their response to freedom of information requests.
- The right to access information must not be undermined by the increased use of private providers in delivering public services and contracts for private providers should be explicit and enforceable in stipulating FOI obligations.
- Where public authorities publish disclosure logs, the names of those requesting information should be included.