The government-appointed body reviewing the Freedom of Information Act has held its first official briefing – but journalists were asked not to disclose who was there or attribute what they said. The five-member committee includes Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, who is already on the record calling for the act to be rewritten; Lord Carlile of Berriew, who accused the Guardian of “a criminal act” when it published stories using National Security Agency material leaked by Edward Snowden; Lord Howard, whose gardening expenses were criticised after being exposed following FoI requests; and Dame Patricia Hodgson, the deputy chair of Ofcom, which has criticised the act for its “chilling effect” on government. It is chaired by Lord Burns, the former chair of Channel 4 and a former permanent secretary to the treasury. Most people who are on the committee have been the subject of FoI requests rather than made FoI requests.
Under the terms of the briefing, the Guardian cannot disclose which members of the committee, if any, were present.
Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have made clear that they are unhappy that Straw and Carlile chose to serve. Both parties have pointed out that they chose to take part in a personal capacity and are not representing the views of their parties, which both believe the act should remain as it is.
“Our aim is to be as open as possible,” the source continued. However, the committee source could not explain why the committee itself was not open to FoI requests and declined requests to publish transcripts of its meetings. Parties who wish to submit evidence with regards to the proposed charges for FoI requests have a deadline of 20 November to present their findings to the commission. The source said he is confident that the commission can read all the evidence, discuss it, come to a conclusion, write a report, and print that report by the time parliament rises on 17 December, twenty working days after the deadline.
The committee has been heavily criticised for being an establishment “stitch-up” to neuter the work of journalists, campaigners and members of the public.
SOYMB blog can understand why that is.