Freedom of Information Act scope to be extended - a bit

The Ministry of Justice has named four public bodies that should be covered by Freedom of Information laws – but campaigners have said the list does not go far enough.

Academy schools, the Association of Chief Police Officers, university admissions body Ucas and the Financial Ombudsman Service would be included within the scope of FoI under the new plans.

Justice secretary Jack Straw said the government would consult the bodies with a view to bringing them within the laws early in the next parliamentary session.

He also said ministers would work with Network Rail and utility companies to consider how the freedom of information regime might also apply to them.

Extending FoI to prisons, detention centres and foster care homes run by private contractors on behalf of public authorities was a “matter under review”, the Ministry of Justice said.

The moves follow a consultation on extending the Freedom of Information Act, which defines what information certain public bodies are required to produce on request.

In a written ministerial statement, Straw said: “Responses to the consultation show considerable support for the principle of extending the coverage of the Act to additional organisations.”

Straw also said codes of practice relating to the Act had also been updated to reflect changes in technology since they were originally published in 2002.

They also take into account collaborative working between bodies and emphasise the importance of good records and information management.

Liberal Democrat justice spokesman David Howarth said: “This is a welcome development which Liberal Democrats have been advocating for some time.

“In many areas of policing, including in the area of policing of protest, the Association of Chief Police Officers have been acting as a legislator.

“It is only right, therefore, that they should be subject to transparency and openness.”

But the Conservative party and the Campaign for Freedom of Information have both said they are disappointed with the government’s announcement.

Tory justice spokeswoman Eleanor Laing said: “This government has revealed their total contempt for greater transparency by only considering to extend the Freedom of Information Act to just four new bodies.

“Hard-pressed taxpayers are pouring money into our nationalised banks and unaccountable quangos, such as regional assemblies, yet these will remain clouded in unacceptable secrecy.”

The Campaign for Freedom of Information said adding four more bodies to FoI was “useful but disappointingly modest”.

“The Campaign had argued that private health bodies providing surgical or diagnostic services under the NHS should be subject to the Act as should providers of social care services and educational and criminal justice services,” it said.

“People’s rights to know about the quality of a public service they receive should be the same, whether the service is provided by a public authority itself or by a private body under contract to the authority.”

The group said other potential candidates for inclusion are housing associations, self-regulatory agencies, the London organising committee of the Olympic Games, the British Airports Authority, port authorities and train operating companies.

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