The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed today’s vote in the House of Lords to bring Northern Rock within the scope of the Freedom of Information Act. Northern Rock would have been explicitly excluded from the FOI Act under the government’s nationalisation proposals published this week.
The Campaign’s director Maurice Frankel said: “The government has argued that Northern Rock should be treated like private sector banks, and not be subject to freedom of information. But the fact that it is being nationalised gives it vast advantages over ordinary banks, puts it at the centre of political debate and makes an irresistible case for full public scrutiny. Publicly owned bodies like Royal Mail, which also compete with the private sector, are subject to the FOI Act – Northern Rock should be too.”
The Campaign pointed out that the government has just been consulting on extending the FOI Act to private bodies with public contracts or public functions and said that made it all the more extraordinary for it to exclude a nationalised body which is fully absorbed into the public sector.
The draft Northern Rock plc Transfer Order 2008, published this week, states that while Northern Rock is owned by the Treasury it shall be treated as not being a publicly owned company, for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. Publicly owned companies are automatically subject to the Act. The Order also states that Northern is not to be regarded as “holding information on behalf of the Treasury” for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act. Information which is held on behalf of a public authority by someone else is normally automatically covered by the Act.
An amendment passed by the House of Lords today inserted a new clause into the Banking (Special Provisions) Bill which reversed these provisions and would bring Northern Rock under the scope of the FOI Act. The government was defeated over the Conservative amendment, which was supported by Liberal Democrats
Maurice Frankel or Katherine Gundersen 020 7490 3958