Freedom of Information Act

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 18th March 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes 11:30 am, 18th March 2014

What plans he has to bring forward legislative proposals to expand the scope of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

There has been good progress in extending the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act because the coalition Government pledged to extend its scope to provide greater transparency. We extended it in 2010 to academies, in 2011 to the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, and last year to 100 companies wholly owned by more than one public authority. The next item on the agenda is to do with Network Rail, and we are awaiting a view from the Department for Transport as to whether it thinks it would be appropriate for that to be implemented this year.

Photo of Lindsay Roy Lindsay Roy Labour, Glenrothes

What benefits have accrued to the Government and citizens from the implementation of the Act, and when does the Minister plan to extend its scope further?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

We intend to extend it further as soon as is practical. One specific issue that I hope will be of interest to the hon. Gentleman—as it is to colleagues of his, including those who have come to see me about it—is that we intend to publish a revised code of practice to make sure that private companies that carry out public functions have freedom of information requirements in their contracts and go further than that. We hope that that will be in place by the end of this year.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean

There is one area where the Minister should perhaps look at narrowing the scope of the Act, because my understanding is that requests can be made by anybody anywhere on the face of the earth; they do not have to be British citizens. It is not the role of the British Government to be a taxpayer-funded research service for anyone on the globe. May I suggest that he narrow the scope to those for whom the Government work—citizens of our country?

Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I well understand my hon. Friend’s point. There will be two consultations this year: first, on precisely such issues about the scope of the current legislation to make sure that it is not abused while we retain freedom of information as a principle of Government; and secondly, on extending it to other areas where we have not gone so far.