Michael Gove wants to make it easier for officials to hide information from the public

He says the Freedom of Information Act needs to be changed

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Indy Politics

Michael Gove has confirmed that he wants to weaken the power of the public to hold ministers to account using Freedom of Information law.

The Justice Secretary said it should be easier for ministers and civil servants to have secret discussions without the threat of transparency.

“I think it is absolutely vital that we ensure that the advice civil servants give to ministers of whatever government is protected, so civil servants can speak candidly and offer advice in order to ensure ministers do not make mistakes,” he told MPs in the House of Commons.

“I think there has been a worrying tendency in our courts and elsewhere to erode that safe space for policy advice.”

He later added: “I think we do need to revisit the Freedom of Information Act, absolutely.”

The Financial Times newspaper reported earlier this week that Mr Gove was considering plans to make it easier for ministers to reject public requests for transparency on the grounds of cost.

But in response to that report Downing Street had said there were “no plans” for any change.

The revelation that Mr Gove is in fact keen on changes comes after the same newspaper reported that Downing Street emails are programmed to delete themselves after three months – likely with a view to avoiding scrutiny under the Act.

The Campaign for Freedom of Information expressed concern at the move.

"The Information Commissioner and Tribunal already take steps to ensure that advice is protected where disclosure would harm the public interest. But it does not adopt a blanket approach," the Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel told the Independent.

“The public needs both and the Act provides a vital element of scrutiny which should not be weakened."

Mr Frankel noted that the Information Commissioner had previously ruled in favour of non-disclosure in the case of an FOI request Mr Gove had received regarding the Building Schools for the Future programme.

In 2011 David Cameron promised “a complete revolution” in government transparency.

The Freedom of Information Act was brought in under the last Labour government.

It allows any member of the public to obtain information held by the Government, with certain exceptions for sensitive, private, or costly requests.