Protection of Freedoms Bill Second Reading

Freedom of Information was referred to several times during the second reading debate on the Protection of Freedoms Bill in the House of Commons on 1 March 2011. The Bill amends the Freedom of Information Act to require the publication of datasets held by public authorities in a re-usable format. It also amends the definition of publicly owned companies so that it includes companies owned by two or more public authorities. And it provision about freedom of information and the Information Commissioner;

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May:…Greater transparency is at the heart of our commitment to open up government to greater scrutiny and to allow public authorities to be held to account, so the Bill makes a number of changes to the Freedom of Information Act to extend its provisions. We will consult the House authorities on these provisions before the Committee stage to ensure that parliamentary copyright is properly safeguarded. The Bill also makes changes to the Freedom of Information Act and to the Data Protection Act to enhance the independence of the Information Commissioner.

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab): …We support sensible extensions to the Freedom of Information Act 2000. As the party that introduced that Act, we believe that it is a vital way of ensuring proper transparency and accountability. In passing, I would appreciate it if the Home Secretary would have a word with the Chancellor and ask him to stop blocking my freedom of information requests on the impact of his changes on women.

Mr Straw:..The Labour Government introduced the Human Rights Act 1998, the title of which was never disputed, because it was indeed about human rights-we could have called it the “Human Rights and Freedom Act”. We also introduced the Freedom of Information Act. I am proud that I was the Home Secretary who produced those measures and a number of others. The previous Conservative Government opposed the freedom of information legislation at every stage for 18 years. They wanted only a non-statutory, unenforceable code. That is all they would have introduced.

David T. C. Davies: I wonder what the right hon. Gentleman made of the claim in Tony Blair’s book that one of the two worst things he did was to pass the Freedom of Information Act-the other one being to pass the Hunting Act 2004.

Mr Straw: I will pass lightly over the Hunting Act, if I may. I do not happen to agree with Tony Blair on that point. Although freedom of information requests can be irritating, especially if one is in government, I did not change how I operated as a Minister. It did not mean that I ceased to record my decisions or comments on submissions. As was brought out by the Dacre report, whichever party is in power there is a case for the proper protection of Cabinet discussions and collective responsibility-that issue might need to be reconsidered, because it has not worked out as intended-but I am in no doubt that overall the Freedom of Information Act has been a force for good.

Tom Brake:…The freedom of information changes are very welcome, although not all aspects of the freedom of information ten-minute rule Bill that I have pressed on two separate occasions in the last three or four years will be picked up. I hope they will be, perhaps in the protection of freedoms (No. 2) Bill, when we get round to that in, I hope, the second half of this Parliament. I do not see any reason why very large private sector organisations that are, in effect, doing public sector work should not be subject to FOI in the same way as the public sector. If they are simply taking on what was previously done by the public sector, and to which FOI legislation would have applied, it would be appropriate for it to apply to private sector organisations now doing that work. I welcome the fact that we will preserve trial by jury and that we are restoring such rights.

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