Freedom of Information and Task Forces

House of Lords written question – answered on 2nd February 2000.

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Photo of Lord Roberts of Conwy Lord Roberts of Conwy Conservative

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Further to the Answer by Lord Falconer of Thoronton that "the move towards task forces . . . makes for more transparent government and provides a much wider source of advice" (H.L. Deb., 11 January, col. 525), how such an analysis can be reconciled with their intention that information pertaining to the formulation of government policy should be a specific exemption from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Bill.

Photo of Lord Bassam of Brighton Lord Bassam of Brighton Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office

The greater use of task forces encourages wider debate of the issues concerned: it ensures that Ministers may receive advice from beyond the confines of Whitehall or special interest groups. It ensures that issues are aired and decisions are taken on a more informed basis.

This does not conflict with the provisions of the Freedom of Information Bill. Freedom of information is about opening up government and about making information more available. Nothing in the Freedom of Information Bill prevents any information from being released. The Freedom of Information Bill does indeed contain an exemption for the formulation of government policy, but it is acknowledged that government must have the space to evaluate policy options and that premature disclosure of this kind of information could hamper the effective conduct of government. Freedom of information regimes in other countries provide similar protection for this kind of information. In addition, while an exemption may place information outside the general right of access that the Bill provides, there is nevertheless a duty placed on authorities to consider exercising their discretion to release such information in the public interest.

The Bill also contains a specific provision regarding the desirability of communicating factual information which has been used to provide an informed background to decision-taking and, although disclosure decisions must be made on a case by case basis, it may well be that reports of task forces would fall into this category.

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