UK Freedom of Information E-news - January 2011
- Government announces bodies to be included in FOI extension
- 30-year rule reduced to 20
- The Information Commissioner will become fully independent of the Ministry of Justice
1. Government announces bodies to be included in FOI extension
The Ministry of Justice announced on 7 January that the necessary clauses to extend the FOI Act will be included in the Freedom Bill, to be introduced by February. Section 6 of the FOI Act will be amended so that it will extend to companies wholly owned by more than one public authority (as opposed to only those owned by a single public authority).
The Association of Chief Police Officers, The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) and the Financial Ombudsman, which have already been consulted with, will be brought under FOI as soon as possible. The government will consult with other bodies in due course. The proposed bodies are:
- Advertising Standards Authority
- Approved regulators under the Legal Services Act 2007, including the Law Society and Bar Council
- British Standards Institute
- Carbon Trust
- Energy Saving Trust
- Examination Boards (where not already covered)
- Harbour authorities (where not already covered)
- Independent Complaints Reviewer
- Independent Schools Inspectorate
- Local Government Association
- National Register of Public Service Interpreters
- National Health Service (NHS) Confederation
- Quality Assurance Agency
- Schools Inspection ServiceThe Bridge School Inspectorate
- The Panel on Takeovers and Mergers
- The Parking and Traffic Appeals Service
- The Trinity House Lighthouse Service
- Traffic Penalty Tribunal.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information welcomed the proposed extension, but said it was disappointing that Network Rail or Northern Rock had not been included.
It also called for companies providing contracted out functions to be brought under the Act, particularly those relating to health, social services, education and criminal justice and for the Act to be extended to housing associations.
2. 30-year rule reduced to 20
The government announced on 7 January that it will amend the Public Records Act to reduce the 30-year rule so that historical records are generally made available at The National Archives and other places of deposit after 20 years. The previous government took this decision but never implemented it.
The government also says that the Freedom of Information Act will be amended in the Freedom Bill to ensure public authorities ‘proactively release data in a way that allows businesses, non-profit organisations and others to re-use the information for social and commercial purposes’.
Communications with the Royal family will be subject to an absolute exemption.
3. The Information Commissioner will become fully independent of the Ministry of Justice
The Information Commissioner’s Office has been requesting for a long time more independence and it will now be granted. The government said on 7 January that it intends to repeal the requirement of the Information Commissioner to seek the Secretary of State’s consent in relation to the appointment of staff, their pay and pensions. In the future, a Commissioner will only be able to serve a single 5 year term. He will be able to issue statutory guidance without the sign off of the Secretary of State.
The Campaign for Freedom of Information said that appointing a new Commissioner every five years could be potentially disruptive, and the term of appointment should be extended to 6 or 7 years.
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