Government to consult on Freedom of Information changes later this year

The justice minister Simon Hughes has confirmed that the government will carry out two consultations on the Freedom of Information Act later this year.
 
He told parliament that one consultation will be on restricting the Act to British citizens, while the second will look at extending it to areas not currently covered such as Network Rail.
 
Asking by Conservative MP Mark Harper whether the government would considering narrowing the scope of the Act to apply to only British citizens, Hughes replied: "There will be two consultations this year: first, on precisely such issues about the scope of the current legislation to make sure that it is not abused while we retain freedom of information as a principle of Government; and secondly, on extending it to other areas where we have not gone so far."
 
Hughes said the government intended to achieve this second part "as soon as is practical".
 
He added: "We intend to publish a revised code of practice to make sure that private companies that carry out public functions have freedom of information requirements in their contracts and go further than that. We hope that that will be in place by the end of this year."
 
Responding to a question by Labour MP Lindsay Roy, Hughes said: "There has been good progress in extending the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act because the coalition government pledged to extend its scope to provide greater transparency.
 
"The next item on the agenda is to do with Network Rail, and we are awaiting a view from the Department for Transport as to whether it thinks it would be appropriate for that to be implemented this year."
 
The Campaign for Freedom of Information and 76 other organisations have urged the government to drop plans to restrict FoI.
 
The group said it was not clear which issues would be covered by the second consultation – on possible extensions.
 
CFoI said: "The government is currently consulting a number of bodies that appear to have public functions with a view to designating them as public authorities under the legislation. But the critical development would be to bring contractors under the FoI Act in their own right, something the government has so far resisted.
 
"The whole purpose of the FoI Act was to replace voluntary disclosure with a statutory right of access to information. It’s this which is being eroded by outsourcing. We believe this should be top of the agenda in the forthcoming consultation."

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