Brown announced the policy shift in a speech at the University of Westminster aimed at improving the government’s image on civil liberties.
At present, public bodies are entitled to refuse FOIA requests if their cost of providing the information exceeds a set threshold. The government had planned to allow public bodies to include a wider range of items, including the time spent considering the request, in the cost total and to aggregate a wider range of separate requests. Both measures would see more requests pass the cost threshold and be refused.
The government proposals came under fire from the Commons Constitutional Affairs Committee in June.
Brown told his audience: “When anything is provided without cost, it does risk being open to abuse,”
But he added: “However the government does not believe that more restrictive rules on cost limits of Fol requests are the way forward.” This meant “we will not tighten Fol fees regulations as previously proposed”.
The previous government plans “might have placed unacceptable barriers between the people and public information”, Brown said. “Public information does not belong to government, it belongs to the public on whose behalf government is conducted.”
Brown told his audience that FOIA could be “inconvenient, at times frustrating and indeed embarrassing for governments”. But it was the right course because government “belonged to the people, not the politicians”, he said.
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