Press notice No. 31 of Session 2005-06
26 June 2006
FREEDOM OF INFORMATION WORKS, SAY MPS, BUT COMPLAINTS DELAYS MUST BE TACKLED AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT IMPROVED
The Constitutional Affairs Committee today publishes its report into the progress of the new Freedom of Information Act, just over a year after it was enacted. The legislation is proving useful and effective and has led to the release of significant and valuable information.
However, the Committee expresses concerns over the time it has taken for some requesters to obtain information, with internal reviews in some organisations being delayed indefinitely and months taken to assess public interest factors. The Committee regards this as contrary to the spirit of the Act and welcomes a commitment from the Information Commissioner to adopt a firmer approach to enforcement, and put pressure on public authorities to deal with requests more quickly. The DCA must work with the Information Commissioner to raise standards so that authorities consistently provide a more timely response to requesters.
The Committee finds that the complaints resolution provided by the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) during 2005 was unsatisfactory, with many requesters and public authorities having to wait months for the Commissioner to begin investigating their complaints and the quality of some investigations was inadequate. The Committee is surprised it took so long for the backlog of complaints to be addressed and is not convinced that enough resources have yet been allocated to clear this problem. The Commissioner is expected to publish a progress report in September of this year which the Committee will use to assess the success of the ICO's recovery action plan.
The Committee is not convinced the relationship between DCA and the ICO is working effectively. It recommends that the Government consider making the Information Commissioner directly accountable to, and funded by, Parliament.
The Committee also expresses concern that there is apparent complacency in Government about preserving digital records, indicating a lack of leadership in improving records management in public authorities. There is a serious possibility that electronic records over 10 years old will essentially become irretrievable as data degrades and technology moves on, and no satisfactory long term strategy has been implemented to manage this problem.
Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:
Freedom of Information is clearly working, although there is room for improvement. After a year of the Act we welcome the constructive and positive way that new and significant information is being released and used. However, our FOI legislation can only be as good as the quality of the records management it gives us access to, and only if people can get access to the information in a timely way. Long delays in accessing information or having complaints resolved go against both the spirit and the letter of the Act, and must be resolved. Records management, and particularly digital records management, must be improved.
The Committee sees a case for changing the reporting structure of the Commissioner's Office, making it accountable to and funded by Parliament, rather than the DCA.
1. The report will be available on the Committee's website:
2. The Committee's previous report on FOI, Freedom of Information Act 2000progress towards implementation (HC 79) was published on 7 December 2004 and is available via the Reports and Publications page of the Committee's website:
3. Committee Membership is as follows: Rt Hon Alan Beith MP (Chairman), James Brokenshire MP, David Howarth MP, Barbara Keeley MP, Mr Piara S Khabra MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP, Keith Vaz MP, Dr Alan Whitehead MP, Jeremy Wright MP