Tag Archives: Ministry of Defence

What next for FOI?

Any keen FoI-er will have come up against extensive waiting times and delays in attempting to get hold of information. Not to mention the difficulty in uncovering which body holds what information. Yesterday it was announced that the Ministry of Justice is to review the Freedom of Information legislation, brought in under by Tony Blair’s government. The act has come under recent scrutiny, since it came out that Blair himself thought its passing had been a mistake.

 The Past

 In 1996 Tony Blair presented awards at the Campaign for Freedom of Information annual awards ceremony. He paid tribute to “Maurice Frankel who has for many years been a tireless campaigner for freedom of information” and celebrated that “I think that the case for freedom of information is actually getting stronger not weaker”. (full speech available here: http://www.cfoi.org.uk/blairawards.html)

But in September of last year Blair’s memoirs were published, and it became clear that he had changed his tune. The Guardian was the first paper to interview the former Prime Minister following the publication on September 1 2010. During the interview Blair admitted that some of his policies might not have been as wise as he once thought. Top of the list were the ban on fox hunting and the Freedom of Information Act, passed in 2000.

He said: “It’s not practical for government. If you are trying to take a difficult decision and you’re weighing up the pros and cons, you have frank conversations. Everybody knows this in their walk of life. Whether you are in business – or running a newspaper – there are conversations you want to have preliminary to taking a decision that are frank. And if those conversations then are put out in a published form that afterwards are liable to be highlighted in particular ways, you are going to be very cautious. That’s why it’s not a sensible thing.”


The Present

 Since then the legislation has been reconsidered. And supported.

At the beginning of the year the coalition announced plans to widen the scope of the Freedom of Information act, thus making more public bodies answerable to the act and bringing in measures to make information more accessible.

  • to extend the FOI Act to a range of regulatory, representative and other bodies
  • to implement the last government’s measures to release old government records after 20 years instead of 30 years
  • to make documents available at National Archives
  • apply the Act to companies that are jointly owned by more than one public authority

But is it all too good to be true. Speaking about the plans, Kenneth Clarke, Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice sad: “The measures outlined will increase transparency. However, we must also ensure that information which it is not in the public interest to release is properly protected.”  

The Future

Now the Ministry of Justice is promising to hold a further review of the legislation later on this year, following pressure from Ministers to make the Local Government Association subject to FoI. There is unlikely to be a change to the scope of FoIs but it’s possible the charging policy could change. The Local Government Chronicle wrote yesterday: “councils hoping for a repeal of the scope of FoIs would be better advised to wait for hell to freeze over”.

Key to the policy revamp will be motions to try to encourage the sharing of information. Justice minister Lord McNally said he hope that amendments will force public authorities to “proactively release data in a way that allows businesses, non-profit organisations and others to re-use the information for social and commercial purposes”. He believes that the changes will mean that a greater amount of information will be available. It is expected that councils will argue against the motion on the grounds of cost. LGC wrote: “MOJ will be looking at the costs of complying with current legislation as part of its review, so councils are likely to have their best opportunity yet to properly highlight their plight.”