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FoI Clearing House Inquiry first public hearings

25 October 2021

The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) will on 26 October begin taking oral evidence for its Freedom of Information (FoI) Clearing House Inquiry by questioning a panel of journalists on their experiences dealing with the Clearing House.

Background

What is known about the Clearing House is limited, but what is understood is that it provides advice and guidance to Government departments on responses to FoI requests and sits within the Cabinet Office.

However, in written evidence submitted by Times journalist George Greenwood, one of the panellists at the session, he calls into question whether the spirit of FoI is being upheld by the Clearing House. He told the Committee that one FoI request he sent was flagged with his name and employer, an apparent breach of the “applicant-blind” nature of the Act.

The Government released some details of it earlier this year in anticipation of its legal defeat at a First Tier Tribunal to openDemocracy after its reporter, Jenna Corderoy, had been knocked back by the Cabinet Office in attempts to use FoI to reveal more about how FoI requests were handled. Ms Corderoy will be a panellist at the session. 

At the same time, there is also an increasing prevalence of information either partially or entirely withheld since the introduction of FoI legislation. Now more than half of the information requested in FoI applications are at least partly blocked by the Cabinet Office.

Purpose of the session

Following the journalistic panel, the Committee will question a panel of academics and experts on their analysis of FoI requests and the Cabinet Office’s performance in dealing with them.

Chair's comment

PACAC Chair William Wragg said, “The Freedom of Information Act is an important cornerstone of openness and transparency in our democracy. Our Committee’s concern is that the Clearing House appears to be neither transparent nor applicant-blind, potentially contravening the spirit and the letter of FoI legislation.

This series of oral evidence sessions we are about to embark on will hopefully shed light on the hitherto opaque nature of the Clearing House’s operations and allow the Committee to make concrete recommendations to the Government to increase openness and transparency in its implementation of the FoI Act."

Witnesses

Tuesday 26 October

At 10am

Panel 1

  • Martin Rosenbaum, former BBC journalist;
  • Jenna Corderoy, Reporter, Investigations Team, openDemocracy;
  • George Greenwood, Data Journalist, The Times and Sunday Times.

Panel 2 at 11.00am

  • Dr Ben Worthy, Senior Lecturer in Politics, Birkbeck College, University of London;
  • Dr Mária ┼Żuffová, Research Associate, Centre for Media Pluralism and Media Freedom,  European University Institute;
  • Gavin Freeguard, former data and transparency programme director, Institute for Government & freelance consultant.

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright