Select Committee on Public Administration Memoranda


MEMORANDUM 31

Submitted by The National Anti-Vivisection Society

  There is widespread public concern about the use of animals in laboratory experiments, many people have witnessed video and photographic evidence in the media.

  Few industries generate such public concern yet are so manifestly unaccountable. The secrecy with which the law is administered only reinforces the conviction that there is something to hide.

  Any commitment to freedom of information must include all of the issues that the public feel strongly about—otherwise the promise of open government and transparency of decision-making processes is meaningless.

  The National Anti-Vivisection Society's interest in a Freedom of Information Act relates to the urgent need for a wider scientific scrutiny of the use of animals in scientific procedures in order to reduce and eliminate the use of animals in favour of non-animal research methods.

  The draft Freedom of Information Bill does not delivery transparency of decision-making processes and open government; quite the opposite:

    —  The test of "prejudice" as opposed to "substantial harm" will have the effect of

(a)  concealing information that should rightly be in the public domain, and

(b)  curtailing informed public debate.

    —  The 40 day period allowed for provision of information is too long.

    —  The cost bar on citizens acting in concert to obtain information, or draw attention to an issue by exercising their right to information is anti-democratic.

    —  A time limit for pending publications is crucial.

    —  Prevents scientific advice to public authorities from being provided to the public.

    —  The all-encompassing personal endangerment (health & safety) clause could be employed when based upon an opinion with no factual evidence.

    —  The Bill allows any information to be given to public authorities "in confidence" without any test of whether such a bar to disclosure is warranted.

    —  The Bill allows the opinion of a Minister or other official to apply the vague phrase "prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs" in order to block disclosure.

    —  Exemption of information simply because it may at some point be linked with other information which may or may not be held by the authority, and may be exempt, is excessive.

June 1999





 
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