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Freedom of Information Act: Implementation

Lord Lester of Herne Hill asked Her Majesty's Government:

9 Jul 2001 : Column WA68

The Lord Chancellor (Lord Irvine of Lairg): It is the Government's intention to implement the Freedom of Information Act well within the statutory five years.

Comparisons between the time taken to implement legislation in other countries and the time needed to implement the Act in the United Kingdom must be made with great care. Central government in the United Kingdom provides service for some 60 million people. The Republic of Ireland has 3.6 million inhabitants, New Zealand 3.4 million and Canada 27 million. Moreover, the equivalent legislation in the Republic of Ireland was prospective only, unlike the UK Act, and the legislation in Canada applies only to the federal government, which covers a narrower range of services than central government in the UK.

The scale of the task of preparing central government in the UK for the implementation of Freedom of Information is therefore significantly greater than that in Canada, New Zealand and the Republic of Ireland. A much greater number of people have to be trained in the operation of the Act, and it is important to ensure that the training is of the extent and quality required for the major new rights that the public will derive from the Act to be delivered effectively.

The Information Commissioner also needs to increase substantially the staff complement of her office. The kind of people she needs to recruit to police the Act effectively cannot simply be recruited overnight. She needs people with knowledge of the way the public sector works and with proper investigative and project management skills.

All this takes time, but the Government intend to complete these tasks as quickly as they can.

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