'Network Rail and Rock should be covered by FoI'

The Campaign for Freedom of Information has asked why Network Rail and nationalised bank Northern Rock aren’t among the new bodies set to be covered by an extended Freedom of Information Act.

Deputy prime minister Nick Clegg revealed last week that ‘hundreds’more bodies should be covered by FoI: including UCAS and the Association of Chief Police Officers.

And he also revealed plans to implement proposals from the previous government to reduce the 30-year rule on the release of government records to 20 years.

The Campaign said these were valuable improvements but also pointed out that before the election both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had promised that Network Rail would be covered and that the Conservatives had also promised to cover Northern Rock.

The Campaign said that private companies doing contracted-out government functions should also be brought under the act – particularly those relating to health, social services, education and criminal justice. And it condemned a decision to implement a more restrictive exemption for senior members of the Royal Family.

At present, communications with the Royal Family are exempt, but can be disclosed on public interest grounds. In future the public interest test will be removed for communications with the monarch and the next two in line to the throne. The Campaign said: ‘Where Prince Charles was seeking to actively intervene in policy decisions, his input would be withheld in all circumstances, even if it had played the decisive role.”

Bodies which could be brought under the scope of FoI under Government proposals include: the Bar Council and Law Society (in relation to their regulatory functions), Advertising Standards Authority, Independent Complaints Reviewer, Independent Schools Inspectorate, Quality Assurance Agency, Panel on Takeovers and Mergers, Local Government Association, NHS Federation, British Standards Institute, Carbon Trust, Energy Saving Trust, Examination Boards, Harbour authorities, National Register of Public Service Interpreters, The Bridge School Inspectorate, Parking and Traffic Appeals Service, The Trinity House Lighthouse Service and Traffic Penalty Tribunal.

The Royal Family itself is not subject to the FoI Act but information about it held by public authorities is potentially disclosable.

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