The Freedom of Information (Public Interest and Transparency) Bill, was introduced in Parliament as a Ten Minute Rule Bill on 19 January 2016. Its aims include extending the Freedom of Information Act to cover private companies, social enterprises and charities contracted to carry out work for public authorities and the Royal Household. 10-minute Rule Bills are devices to permit subjects to be debated as draft laws, but scarcely ever make progress in themselves, and it is almost certain that no further progress will be made.
However, the manifesto I stood on at the last election included a commitment to this same principle- extending the scope of Freedom of Information laws so that public services run by large private companies are included. During the last Parliament Labour MPs supported amendments to the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill which would have brought public providers of public services contracted out under the Bill within the scope of the FOIA. Had we been elected last year, we would have been able to build on the FOI introduced by a previous Labour government. Sadly, I fear that the present government will make no such commitment and this is likely to be an issue that will remain pending until after the next election.
On the wider principles of FOI, I believe that openness and accountability are vital for any Government and that an appropriate balance needs to be struck between the need for transparency and the right for certain Ministerial correspondence to remain confidential. The FOIA - introduced by the previous Labour Government - sought to achieve this balance but I believe it is important to now look at how this could be improved and strengthened.
I am concerned about much of the Government's Commission on the Freedom of Information, including its remit and its composition. I believe the Commission was set up by the Government in order to weaken the Freedom of Information Act. It is therefore welcome that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have held their own public, cross-party review into the Act, to look at whether there is scope to extend any part of the Act in order to achieve its stated objectives.
I hope that this is helpful
Karen Buck MP