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A draft Freedom of Information Bill – repeatedly delayed

The government has been promising to publish a draft Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill for consultation since June 1997. The draft Bill was originally promised for the beginning of 1998 but has been repeatedly delayed. It is currently being promised by the end of February 1999, but only if “good progress” with the drafting work is made. The following quotes show how the timetable has repeatedly slipped.

The Prime Minister, House of Commons (Written Answers, col. 99), June 2 1997:

“It is important to have full public consultation on the content of this Bill. To this end, we will shortly be setting out the Government’s proposals for a Freedom of Information Bill in a White Paper. We then hope to publish a draft bill, for consultation, early in the new year.”

Dr. David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, House of Commons (col. 322), 30 July 1997:

“I intend to publish a draft freedom of information Bill early in the new year, which will follow a consultative period after the freedom of information White Paper.”

Cabinet Office Press Release 29 October 1997:

‘[Dr Clark] said… “Consultation on the White Paper will last into the early months of next year, and will be followed by a draft FOI Bill for further consultation in the spring. Having taken on board the issues raised during consultation, we can prepare to introduce the Bill into Parliament”.’

Cabinet Office Press Release 11 December 1997:

‘Dr Clark said… “The White Paper marks the beginning of consultation on our proposals. I am keen to hear your views, which will be fed into a draft bill to be published in the spring.”‘

Cabinet Office Press Release 2 February 1998:

‘Dr Clark said… “The next stage is to publish a draft Freedom of Information Bill, which I hope to do before the summer.”‘

Lord Chancellor’s Department Press Release 28 April 1998:

‘Lord Irvine said that the Government is committed to openness at every stage.”Our next step will be to produce a draft Freedom of Information Bill to be published during the Summer”.’

Dr David Clark, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, House of Commons debate on FoI (col. 831), 6 July 1998:

“I tell my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Mr. Morgan) and other members of the Select Committee who have expressed their concern that the Government have an agreed timetable to publish the draft Bill by the end of September for pre-legislative consideration. Indeed, nothing whatever has happened to affect the Bill’s candidature for inclusion in the Queen’s Speech later this year; I cannot be more open or definitive than that.”

Mrs. Ann Taylor, Leader of the House, House of Commons (col. 1259), 23 July 1998 said:

“I can confirm that, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said, we intend to publish a draft Bill in the autumn.”

Home Office Press Release 29 September 1998:

‘In a letter to the Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, Mr Straw pledged that a draft Freedom of Information Bill would be published early in the New Year. “I have… set in hand a programme of work which I intend will deliver a draft Bill early in the New Year”.’

Mr. Jack Straw, Home Secretary, House of Commons (col. 528), 30 November 1998:

“The Government will publish a draft freedom of information Bill early next year for pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee on Public Administration, and for public consultation. Following that, the Government will introduce the Bill to Parliament as soon as the legislative programme allows.”

Mr. Jack Straw, Home Secretary, House of Commons (col. 568), 30 November 1998:

“I wish that I could be more specific. I hope – I say “hope” because of the complexity of the Bill’s provisions and the need for parliamentary draftsman to have sufficient time – that it will be by the end of February, which would be sufficient time… Subsequently, subject to business managers, there will be a full debate on the Bill in the House.”

The Prime Minister, in a letter to the Campaign for Freedom of Information, 14 December 1998:

“The Government is committed to publishing a draft Bill on Freedom of Information in the current session of Parliament. The Home Secretary announced in the House on 30 November, that he hoped that the draft Bill would be available by the end of February, though that depended on good progress being made on turning the broad principles of the White Paper into legislation.

The draft Bill will then be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by the Select Committee on Public Administration and there will, in parallel, be an opportunity for further public consultation.”

Mr. Paddy Tipping, Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office, House of Commons (col. 924),16 December 1998:

“My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore), in a short but effective speech, asked about the freedom of information Bill. I am delighted to reassure him that a draft Bill will be published early in the new year – towards the end of January, or perhaps into February – and there will be pre-legislative scrutiny. We propose legislation for the whole life of a Parliament, and my hon. Friend will have heeded the commitment of the Prime Minister to ensure that, during the lifetime of this Parliament, we will have a freedom of information Act. My hon. Friend also tried to tempt me into looking at MI6, but I will resist that temptation this morning.”

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