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Freedom of Information Act

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 16 July 2009

Statement

My right honourable friend the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Michael Wills) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I have today laid before each House a revised copy of the Lord Chancellor's code of practice on the management of records, issued under Section 46 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. I have also published a copy of the Government's response to the public consultation entitled The Freedom of Information Act 2000: The Designation of Additional Public Authorities. Copies of this document are available in the Libraries of both Houses and also in the Vote Office and the Printed Paper Office.

These publications support the Government’s plans to increase the accessibility of public information and promote the culture of openness and transparency in public life. On 10 June the Prime Minister committed to a reduction of the 30-year rule to 20 years in response to the 30-year rule review. The Government are considering carefully the practical details of implementing a new rule and aim to publish their full response in late summer.

Responses to the consultation entitled The Freedom of Information Act 2000: The Designation of Additional Public Authorities show considerable support for the principle of extending the coverage of the Act to additional organisations through a series of Section 5 orders.

The response proposes an initial, focused Section 5 order to be accompanied by action outside the Act to promote proactive publication (by voluntary adoption of the ICO’s model publication scheme) and openness (by reminding public authorities and contractors of the existing guidance on access to information, which should inform contracting practices and responses to requests for information). The current list of persons proposed for inclusion in this first Section 5 order are:

Academy schools;

Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO);

Financial Ombudsman Service; and

UCAS.

These bodies will be consulted directly, and the Government aim to bring forward a Section 5 order early in the 2009-10 Session. The response also makes clear the Government’s intention to engage with Network Rail and utility companies to consider whether Section 5 or primary legislation might be appropriate means of including those bodies within the FOIA regime too.

FOI depends on good records and information management. This is recognised in the FOI Act by provision at Section 46 for guidance to be issued in the form of a code of practice. The first code of practice was issued in November 2002, nearly seven years ago. Much has changed since then, not least the increased use of information technology to create, store, share and publish records and other information. These changes have made it necessary to update the guidance and today the Lord Chancellor is issuing a revised code of practice.

As well as addressing some of the challenges of digital records management, the revised code takes account of new ways of collaborative working. It also emphasises the business benefits of good records and information management and its relevance to data protection and other information legislation, as well as to freedom of information.