The Conservatives have promised to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act within weeks of the general election.
Expanding the Freedom of Information Act
We will expand the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to include taxpayer-funded bodies such as Northern Rock and Network Rail, together with bodies such as the Local Government Association. This will give the public access to a huge amount of government information currently available only to Ministers.
Under Labour, the Freedom of Information Act excludes a wide range of taxpayer funded bodies which exercise power over areas ranging from railways to the Olympics budget to energy efficiency projects and road traffic penalties.
A Conservative government will increase the range of publically funded bodies that are subject to scrutiny using Section 5 orders under the Freedom of Information Act. These bodies will include:
- Network Rail
- Northern Rock;
- The Carbon Trust;
- The Energy Saving Trust;
- NHS Confederation (in relation to activities in receipt of public funds);
- Local Government Association; and
- Traffic Penalty Tribunals
Section 5 of the Freedom of Information Act enables Secretaries of State to designate organisations that appear to exercise functions of a public nature to scrutiny under the legislation. We will extend the Freedom of Information Act to these organisations within weeks of the General Election.
The plans were published in a document detailing nine Big ideas to give Britain real change in politics, which also included further details about the right to government data included in the Conservative manifesto (see earlier post here)
The Right to Data Act will give members of the public a legally enforceable ‘Right to Data’, so that the public has the right to appeal if public bodies refuse requests for data collected by government.
This radical policy will put the public in the driving seat when it comes to requesting and receiving government datasets containing anonymised but socially or commercially useful information. Once published, there will be a continuing obligation to publish that data on a regular basis for as long as it is collected.
This legislation will be introduced as soon as possible, but even before the draft bill has become law, a Conservative government will improve transparency by launching spending transparency and making a wide range of government datasets available to the public.