Today’s columnist, Louise Haigh: More say not less is needed

More than 140 press and campaign bodies urge Prime Minister not to weaken FOI Act.
More than 140 press and campaign bodies urge Prime Minister not to weaken FOI Act.
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This week I launched a Commission to review the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act with Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson.

FOI is a proud Labour achievement which enshrined in law our right to access information about the way taxpayers’ money is used.

It has led to improvements in policies, to reduction in waste and expenses and helped contribute to better government that promotes openness and transparency over secrecy.

It is a vital tool for journalists, campaigners and most importantly the public to hold their elected representatives to account.

But clearly it has not worked effectively in all cases.

So while the Government is attempting to weaken the Act with their own commission which has no remit to look at whether it has been effective and consists of members openly against FOI, we want to look at how it can be improved and strengthened.

For example – should individuals have the same rights to information if a public service is run by a private contractor?

Has the Act genuinely improved the culture of government and if not, how can we ensure it does?

Sadly, this is only one area in which the Government are attempting to stifle opposition – the Trade Union Bill and the Gagging Law, are two very real examples.

And it is worrying that FOI which allows individuals opportunity to challenge the Government is facing the same treatment.

In any given day we read in the news important stories unearthed through FOI. From bonuses, stop-and-search figures, expenses, the exposing of child sexual exploitation – policy and lives have been changed by having these issues brought to light.

In a time when the allocation of resources becomes more and more controversial, as we see our public finances squeezed yet further, the public should have more, not less, say in how this has done and there should be more accountability and scrutiny of these decisions.

I’m proud to be leading Labour’s work on this and to seek to protect a cornerstone of our democracy.