Freedom of Information Act 2000 March 2016
Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Freedom of Information Act 2000 [and the related campaign by the Campaign for Freedom of Information and 38 Degrees].
I believe that the Freedom of Information Act 2000 ('FOI Act'), introduced by the then Labour Government, is one of the most effective pieces of legislation Parliament has ever passed. I believe the FOI Act has given the public, campaigners and the media a powerful tool with which to hold the Government to account and increase transparency.
I share some of your concerns about the Government's independent, cross-party Commission on the Freedom of Information including its remit and composition. As I am sure you are aware, the Commission was set up in July 2015 to examine the implications and effectiveness of the FOI Act. The Commission also held oral evidence sessions in January 2016.I believe the review does not have the support of the public and is opposed by many of the organisations that are covered by FOI. The Commission published their report on 1 March. I was delighted that the Government announced that there would be no legal changes to the FOI Act following the report.
I understand that the Commission stated in their report that they believe there is a need for greater transparency in outsourced public services, stating that 'any private company which is delivering public services under contract with a value at or greater than £5m per financial year should be covered' by the FOI Act. The Commission did not make an official recommendation on this issue as they did not consider it to be within their remit at the outset of their review.
Under the present Government, accountability has not kept up with the increase in outsourcing of public services. The information we need to measure the performance of private sector contractors providing public services should be available. I would like to see progress of the past decade in opening up government to more scrutiny built upon, with the FOI Act's successes and proposals being considered in order to strengthen the Act.
It is therefore welcome that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have launched their own public, cross-party review into the Act, which is due to report in late February. I support the aim of this review to look into how effective the Act has been and ways it could be extended.
I will look closely at both the Government and Opposition's reviews and consider their findings. However, it is important that any changes resulting from the Commission's review do not weaken this crucial check on the power of the Executive.
I can assure you that I will continue to follow this issue closely and bear in mind the points you raise as this issue develops.
Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.