Constitutional Affairs Committee

Press notice 16 of session 2003-04                 15 September 2004


CONSTITUTIONAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE LAUNCHES INQUIRY INTO IMPLEMENTATION OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT

Details of a new inquiry that will scrutinise Government preparations for the full implementation of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 were announced today by the Constitutional Affairs select committee.

The decision to launch an inquiry precedes full implementation of the Act in January 2005 and follows an earlier evidence session with the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, and the Chief Executive of The National Archives, Sarah Tyacke CB.

Launching the inquiry, Committee Chairman Rt Hon Alan Beith MP said:

“With less than 4 months before the coming into force of the Freedom of Information Act, thousands of public bodies are facing considerable challenges in meeting the Government’s ambitious timetable for implementation. We need to ask whether there has been sufficient time given for that preparation and whether support from central government has been effective and timely.

“We must be absolutely certain that the implementation of the Act proceeds smoothly.

“We will look at the reasoning behind the Government’s decision to introduce the Act through a ‘big bang’ rather than phasing in its implementation, as well as considering the question of the appropriate charging regime that will accompany full implementation.”

The Committee wants to address the following key questions on which it would welcome written evidence:

Terms of Reference:

• The state of preparedness for the implementation of Freedom of Information legislation;

• Issues of implementation for central government departments;

• Issues of implementation for local authorities and smaller public bodies;

• The role of the Department for Constitutional Affairs in co-ordinating the implementation of the Act.

Oral evidence sessions will take place in October and November 2004.

Submissions relating to the terms of reference above are invited from relevant interested parties. These should be sent to the Clerk of the Committee, Constitutional Affairs Committee, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 4JA by Friday 15 October 2004. An electronic version in MS Word or Rich Text format should also be submitted, either by e-mail to [email protected] or on a disk and this should be accompanied by a letter stating clearly who the submission is from, together with relevant contact details. Attention is drawn to the guidance on the submission of evidence which can be found at www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/witguide.htm

NOTES TO EDITORS:

1. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (FOI) comes into force on 1 January 2005, providing the general right of access to information held by public authorities. The FOI Act will apply to approximately 100,000 public authorities, including central and local Government, Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the armed forces, the police, hospitals, GPs, dentists, schools, universities, publicly funded museums and many other bodies. The Scottish Parliament has enacted a separate Freedom of Information Act.  However, Northern Ireland has decided to adopt and operate the Act in line with England and Wales.
2. The FOI Act establishes a statutory right of access to information. Following full implementation, a person who writes to a public authority and asks them for information will have the right to be informed in writing whether the authority has the information, and, if it does, to have the information communicated to them, subject to clearly defined exemptions.
3. Information on the Act and its implementation is available from the Department for Constitutional Affairs website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/foi/index.htm
4. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), Peter Bottomley MP, Mr Hilton Dawson MP, Mr James Clappison MP, Ross Cranston QC MP, Mr Andrew Rosindell MP, Mr Clive Soley MP, Mrs Ann Cryer MP, Keith Vaz MP, Mr Jim Cunningham MP, Dr Alan Whitehead MP.
5. News Release: 16