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Freedom of Information: Commencement of Certain Provisions

Justice written statement – made on 18th January 2011.

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Photo of Kenneth Clarke Kenneth Clarke The Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice

On Friday 7 January 2011, the Ministry of Justice announced the Government's plans to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act and to further increase transparency in public affairs. The Government will bring forward a number of measures to bring those plans into effect:

We will introduce a section 5 order under the Freedom of Information Act in the spring to bring the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the University and Colleges Admissions Service within the Act's scope.

We will also consult a range of further bodies with a view to their inclusion in the Act by a further section 5 order later this year. This includes bodies as diverse as Examination Boards, Harbour Authorities, the Local Government Association and the NHS Confederation.

We will amend section 6 of the FOI Act in the Freedom Bill to end the anomaly where companies wholly owned by a single public authority are subject to the Act but those wholly owned by more than one public authority are not. We will also introduce measures to enhance the independence of the Information Commissioner's Office in the same Bill.

We will ensure that, starting from 2013, Government and other public records are made available at the National Archives or other places of deposit 10 years sooner than at present by commencing amendments to the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule to a 20-year rule. In tandem, we will also commence amendments to the FOI Act to reduce the time some types of information-including information contained in court records, and relating to ministerial correspondence and policy formulation-may be withheld.

Finally, we will also conduct a process of post-legislative scrutiny of the FOI Act to see how well the Act is working in practice and whether further changes should be made. It is important that this review of legislation, designed to promote openness and transparency, is itself undertaken in a transparent way and with the involvement of Parliament.

The measures outlined above will increase transparency. However, we must also ensure that information which it is not in the public interest to release is properly protected, and that we have proper regard to this country's long-standing constitutional conventions. It is for this reason that on 16 January 2011, I made a commencement order to bring into effect changes made in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 to enhance the protection for information relating to communications with the royal family and royal household. The changes provide an absolute instead of a qualified exemption for information relating to communications with the sovereign, heir to the throne or second in line to the throne or those acting on their behalf. The exemption for other members of the royal family and members of the royal household remains qualified. The lifespan of the exemption changes from 30 to 20 years or the lifetime of the relevant member of the royal family plus five years, whichever is longer.

This amendment to the FOI Act is necessary to protect the long-standing conventions surrounding the monarchy and its records, for example the sovereign's right and duty to counsel, encourage and warn her Government, as well as the heir to the throne's right to be instructed in the business of Government in preparation for their future role as monarch. The changes will come into force tomorrow.

Copies of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (Commencement No. 4 and Saving Provision) Order 2011 (SI 2011 No. 46 (C. 3)) have been placed in the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office.