HC Deb 01 April 1998 vol 309 cc587-9W
15. Mr. Baker

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will make a statement on the conclusions he has drawn from the consultation on his freedom of information proposals. [35816]

24. Dr. Tony Wright

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what responses he has received to the White Paper on open government. [35826]

27. Mr. Paterson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what representations he has received on freedom of information. [35829]

Dr. David Clark

Consultation on "Your Right to Know" drew over 550 responses. The overall reaction to our proposals was very positive, as the hon. Members will see if they study the material in the Library. I am considering detailed points from the consultation in preparing a draft Freedom of Information Bill.

21. Mr. Campbell-Savours

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what is his proposed date for the introduction of Freedom of Information legislation. [35823]

22. Mr. Hanson

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he expects to publish the Freedom of Information Bill. [35824]

Dr. David Clark

I expect to publish a draft Bill later in the year, which will continue the consultation process started with the White PaperYour Right to Know. In the light of comments on this, a Bill will be introduced into Parliament as soon as the legislative timetable permits.

Dr. Kumar

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what response he has received to the consultation exercise he held on the Government White Paper, Your Right to Know. [37659]

Dr. David Clark

I am delighted to say that the consultation exercise on the Government's Freedom of Information White Paper,Your Right to Know, received a very good response with some 557 replies received from a wide variety of individuals and organisations, as shown in the breakdown in the table. The great majority of the comments we received, even where they suggested changes or expressed disagreement with some aspects, were in favour of the fundamental content and broad direction of our proposals. This shows the wide support that exists for legislation of the sort proposed in our Manifesto, and set out in detail in the White Paper.

Although the consultation period formally ended on 28 February, many responses were still coming at the stage and, in the interests of full inclusiveness and fairness, we have included in our analysis as many replies as possible which were received after the end of February.

I am pleased to report that 172 (or 31 per cent.) of the replies were made by e-mail and 48 of these replies came via the Internet site set up for an open discussion of the proposals by UK Citizens' Online Democracy (UKCOD) with the support of the Cabinet Office. This shows the important role information technology can play in consultation exercises of this type.

I am today placing in the libraries of the House a list of those who responded (except where they requested anonymity) and copies of the responses received (except for those respondents who wished their comments to remain confidential). The apparently substantial number of replies requesting anonymity or confidentiality very largely consists of responses concerning the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 made by licence holders under the Act. Replies of this sort made up 100 of the 117 responses in these categories.

In addition to being placed in the libraries of the House, the responses are also being placed on the Internet and will shortly be available for viewing and downloading on the Internet. There is a direct link from the FOI Unit homepage—http://www.open.gov.uk/m-of-g/foihome.htm — to the UKCOD site where the submissions are posted— http://foi.democracy.org.uk.html/submissions.index.html. A paper copy of the full set of responses is available from the Cabinet Office.

The consultation exercise has been extremely valuable in focusing public attention on our proposals for Freedom of Information. I am now considering the main points arising from the consultation, and how we will need to take account of them in preparing a draft Bill for publication later this year. That publication will, in itself, mark a further major stage in the consultation process.

The breakdown of responses by category is:

Total number of responses Responses by e-mail On-line discussion
Individuals 160 103 38
Business 65 11 2
Media 6 1 0
Academics 59 14 0
Charities, Lobby Groups and Campaign Group 82 21 4
Members of either House 5 0 0
Public Authorities 152 15 1
Members of the European Parliament 0 0 0
Others 28 7 3
Totals 557 172 48