FOI: No right of access till 2005?

Get your MP to sign!

Has your MP signed the Parliamentary motion urging the Government to implement the Freedom of Information Act on time? The Government had planned to start bringing the right of access into force by summer 2002. However it now seems possible that this date could be set back by several years and that there will be no right of access until 2005. This was the implication of the evidence which the Lord Chancellor, Lord Irvine gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee on 16 October 2001.

The FOI Act received Royal Assent on 30 November 2000 and must be fully in force by November 2005. However ministers always made clear their intention to phase it in starting 18 months later for central government, with other authorities following at intervals. This timetable was referred to during the bill’s Commons committee stage and has been cited by the Information Commissioner in her advice to public authorities (see below).

A formal announcement of this timetable was expected several months ago, but has still not been made. This has left authorities preparing for the Act in limbo, and raised new doubts about the Government’s commitment to this important legislation. How could such a delay be compatible with Tony Blair’s 1996 statement that FOI “is absolutely fundamental to how we see politics developing in this country over the next few years“?

A total of 174 MPs, have so far signed. If your MP is not on the list please consider writing and asking him or her to sign. Note that government ministers, PPSs and Conservative front bench spokespersons do not sign these motions. If your MP is one of these, you could still ask them to press the Government for confirmation it intends to implement the Act as originally planned.

The motion is what is known as an “Early Day Motion” or “EDM”. You should ask your MP to sign EDM No 296 on Freedom of Information. This is what it says:

“That this House notes with concern that no timetable has been announced for bringing the Freedom of Information Act 2000 into force following its enactment in November 2000; recalls that Parliament was told that the Act would begin to come into force 18 months after Royal Assent; endorses the Prime Minister’s statement that this legislation will deliver ‘not just more open government but more effective and efficient government’ and calls on the government to confirm that it will bring the right of access into force for central government before the end of 2002.”

The Information Commissioner’s Programme for Implementation

“The Freedom of Information Act must be fully implemented by 30 November 2005, at the latest. Whilst details of the timetable for implementation have yet to be announced, the Information Commissioner has worked on the assumption that the likely approach would be to bring groups of public authorities within the scope of the Act in stages, starting with Central Government in Summer 2002. The timetable is expected to be annnounced in July 2001. The Commissioner’s guidance will then be revised accordingly.”

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