This morning’s speech by Nick Clegg on civil liberties had much to say about FOIA and access to information more broadly.
The Deputy Prime Minister said that the progress in transparency brought about by the introduction of FOIA has stalled: FOIA, he said “was a good start, but it was only a start. Exceptions remain far too common. And the available information is too often placed behind tedious bureaucratic hurdles.”
He hailed the Treasury’s COINS database, which details public services expenditure, the work of The Open Knowledge Foundation in processing that data for ready public consumption, and the Cabinet Office’s new transparency rules concerning the publication of spending figures by Whitehall departments (the Cabinet Office’s website explains its work on transparency).
He advertised the government’s plans for a Public Data Corporation, which will “bring existing government bodies together into one organisation, responsible for disseminating a wealth of data” (on which, see The Guardian‘s article here).
FOIA’s scope is to be extended “to cover potentially hundreds more bodies; including UCAS, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Financial Ombudsman Service and many more”. A complete list has yet to be announced. The government does not, it appears, intend to make bodies such as water utility companies or Network Rail subject to FOIA.
Nor, it appears, will the Secretary of State’s right of veto over Tribunal decisions be repealed.
The 30-year rule is being scaled back to a 20-year rule.
Finally, the Justice Select Committee is to be tasked with “post-legislative scrutiny” (although it is not entirely clear to what legislation this task will apply) of how FOIA is being implemented.
Data protection crept in via Mr Clegg’s recognition that government “must be very respectful in handling personal information”. The EIR did not get a mention in the speech.
The full text of Mr Clegg’s speech is available here.