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Freedom of Information Act 2000

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 9 March 2016

We announced our response to the independent commission on the freedom of information last week. The commission did not make a formal recommendation about extending the coverage of the Act, but we will take action to extend pay transparency across the public sector.

I am pleased to note that the Government appear to have retreated from their plan to introduce fees for freedom of information requests. Does the Minister agree with me and many of my constituents that it is in the public interest for the Freedom of Information Act to be extended to cover private companies when they are contracted to provide public services?

As I have said before at the Dispatch Box, I am a strong supporter of freedom of information, and I want to record my thanks to the commission, which did hard work and made sensible suggestions for improvements. The issue that the hon. Lady has raised is a complex one. For instance, we do not want to deter small businesses from supplying into government. We will consider what was written by the commission, even though no formal recommendation was made.

Will my right hon. Friend join me in welcoming the commission’s conclusion that it would be inappropriate to introduce further charges for requests under the Act? Can he reassure my constituents that the Government have no plans to do so?

I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. As we said last week, we will not introduce fees because we think that it is important for people to use freedom of information to find out what is going on inside public bodies, including local authorities and more broadly, to ensure, rightly, that taxpayers’ money is spent better because the people who are spending it are held to account.

12. The Minister has just talked about extending the Act to cover private providers doing public service contracts, and he mentioned small businesses. Clearsprings runs a Home Office contract in my constituency relating to asylum seekers’ accommodation, but it is failing the taxpayer and the thousands of vulnerable asylum seekers living in its accommodation, safe from the scrutiny of the Act. Will he confirm that the Act will be extended to cover large companies such as Clearsprings? (903991)

I cannot give the hon. Lady that assurance, not least because, having considered this question and listened to representations from both sides of the argument, the commission did not make a formal recommendation on this matter. I can tell her, however, that FOI can be used to scrutinise those who set up the contracts that businesses, large and small, supply into.