Submitted by the British Safety Council
Thank you for your letter asking me to contribute
evidence to the Select Committee on Publication Administration
on the draft Freedom of Information Bill. The British Safety Council
will be responding separately to the Consultation Document direct
to the Home Office.
In giving this evidence to the Select Committee
I do so on behalf of the British Safety Council and our 12,700
member organisations who between them employ 4.5 million people
(1 in 5 of the UK workforce). We have canvassed opinions from
all our member organisations and have had an astonishingly high
level of response (628 replies). We have every reason to believe
that the replies are representative of the opinions of all our
The British Safety Council's first concern is
with the blanket exemption, in clause 25 of the draft Bill, for
information resulting from investigations. 94.1 per cent of our
members believe the Health and Safety Executive should be obliged
to release the results of accident investigation where this is
in the public interest. It is known that the Home Secretary has
already indicated that he will make concessions and change the
Bill in this area. However, it is important that the changes made
are substantive and not merely cosmetic. The crucial test should
be that of "substantial harm" to the public interest
as predicted in the Government's White Paper.
The British Safety Council's second concern
is that the Information Commissioner has no power [clause 45(2)]
to override public authorities' decisions. There should be a binding
public interest test and the Commissioner should be able to compel
authorities to release information. If this change is not made
then any authority can cover up the fact that it has been, or
is about to, endanger public safety. 92.6 per cent of British
Safety Council members believe the public has a right to know
about industrial (and other) hazards.
The British Safety Council's third concern is
with the blanket exemption, in clause 28, about government policy.
While there may be some reason for wishing to keep secret the
positions taken by authorities leading up to a policy decision
there can be no benefit in keeping the background facts and the
analysis hidden. 91.0 per cent of British Safety Council members
believe that freedom of information is beneficial to health and
safety and in this respect clause 28 needs substantial amendment.
Finally, the British Safety Council is concerned
that clause 14 allows authorities which make a discretionary disclosure
to "gag" the recipient. There can be no justification,
in health and safety issues, for insisting on knowing what use
is going to be made of the information before it is given. Neither
can there be any justification for preventing its publication
once release has been made. This clause needs substantial change.
In presenting this evidence to the Committee
the British Safety Council's sole concern is to ensure that there
is no unreasonable restriction on the fresh air of freedom of
information which has been proven to be beneficial in creating
a culture of openness. Without such a change in culture further
significant improvement in health and safety cannot be achieved.