Post-legislative scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000 - Justice Committee Contents

9  Conclusion

241.  The Freedom of Information Act has been a significant enhancement of our democracy. Overall our witnesses agreed that the Act was working well. The right to access information has improved openness, transparency and accountability. The principal objectives of the Act have therefore been met, but we are not surprised that the unrealistic secondary expectation that the Act would increase public confidence in Government and Parliament has not been met. We do not believe that there has been any general harmful effect at all on the ability to conduct business in the public service, and in our view the additional burdens are outweighed by the benefits. There is some risk—based on perception as much as reality—that policy discussions at the highest levels may be inhibited or not properly recorded because of fear of early disclosure under the Act. This was never intended to be the effect of the Act, and we believe that it can be dealt with by the proper application of the protection provided in section 35 of the Act, firm guidance to senior civil servants about the extent of the protections provided and, where necessary and appropriate, by the use of the ministerial veto to protect the "safe space" for such discussions. We also note that disclosure of such discussions is as likely to occur through major public inquiries or court proceedings as it is under the Freedom of Information Act.

242.  We believe that openness should follow public money when public services are outsourced, and in our view this can best be achieved through clear and enforceable contract provisions rather than by designating commercial companies under the Act, which should be retained as a last resort.

243.  We believe that there is a specific problem for ongoing research in universities which needs to be addressed by provisions on the lines of those operating in Scotland under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002, and we call for the time limits in the Act to be put into statute, but with these exceptions we see no pressing need for legislative change to an Act which is serving the nation well.

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Prepared 26 July 2012