PL&B FOI E-news, Issue 26

1. Government to appeal against Information Tribunal’s decision on ID cards

The Information Tribunal has supported the Information Commissioner in his decision to order civil servants at the Office of Government Commerce (OGC) to disclose the Gateway Reviews on the identity cards programme. The purpose of the Gateway process is to promote best value for money in government procurement. Programmes and projects are examined at critical stages in their life cycle to provide assurance that they can progress successfully to the next stage on time and on budget.

The Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said: “The Information Tribunal has confirmed my view that the public interest in disclosing the Gateway Review information on identity cards was stronger than any public interest in it remaining secret. Disclosure is likely to enhance public debate of issues such as the programme’s feasibility and how it is managed. I am also pleased that the Information Tribunal gave a clear and specific signal that it cannot be assumed that information contained in Gateway Reviews falls outside the scope of the Freedom of Information Act.”

The decision was given on 2 May.

The Financial Times reported on May 30th that the OGC is to appeal against the Information Tribunal’s ruling to the High Court.

2. MPs vote to exempt themselves from FOI Act

The Freedom of Information Act (amendment) Bill that seeks to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, despite previous attempts to stop it, had its third reading in the House of Commons on Friday, 18 May.

The Bill was passed by a majority of 71, and will now go to the House of Lords. While the current speaker has promised that information on MPs expenses would still be released, this voluntary agreement might not apply in the future.

David McLean, a Conservative MP who introduced the Bill, said that it is needed to protect the confidentiality between MPs and their constituents. The Campaign for Freedom of Information has repeatedly pointed out that constituents’ correspondence is already protected under the existing exemptions and the Data Protection Act. The Information Commissioner’s Office has not received a single complaint either from an MP or from a constituent concerning the improper disclosure of such correspondence.

The Campaign is concerned that the Bill's wider message is even more damaging: ‘MPs who support the Bill are suggesting that they regard the FOI Act as unnecessary nuisance. They will be encouraging other authorities to believe that they too should not have to comply. If MPs pass this Bill what will they say to ministers or others who refuse to answer FOI requests? How will they dare to even protest? They will have sent a message of solidarity to any authority which resists the public's right to know.’

Prime Minister in waiting, Gordon Brown, has stated that he is against the Bill.

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Copyright Privacy Laws & Business 2007