HC Deb 10 February 1998 vol 306 cc115-6W
Mr. Rhodri Morgan

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he will list the principal points of difference between the rights of access to information provided for at present under(a) the non-statutory Code of Practice on Open Government and (b) the statutory right of access to information on environmental matters contained in the Environment Information Regulations 1992. [28924]

Dr. David Clark

The principal differences between the access provisions under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information and under the Environmental Information Regulations 1992 (which give effect to EC Directive 90/313) are as follows:

  1. (a) the Code of Practice is non-statutory; the Regulations have the force of law;
  2. (b) appeals against non-disclosure under the Code of Practice are referable to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration; the appeals mechanism for the Regulations would be by judicial review;
  3. (c) the formal coverage of the Code of Practice is determined by the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration; the coverage of the Regulations is determined by the definition of "relevant person" in Regulation 2(3);
  4. (d) the Code of Practice applies to all information held by the bodies concerned; the Regulations apply only to information which relates to the environment, as defined in Regulation 2(2);
  5. (e) there are some minor differences in the wording of the exemptions from disclosure, although in practice the exemptions cover similar areas;
  6. (f) the exemptions in the Code of Practice are discretionary i.e. they allow certain information to be withheld from disclosure; the Regulations contain provision for certain mandatory exemptions i.e. they require that certain information must be withheld from disclosure.

The Government are considering how best to incorporate the requirements of the Environmental Information Directive 90/313 into the wider Freedom of Information policy proposed in the White Paper "Your Right to Know". Our aim will be to simplify and streamline the present arrangements for both applicants and holders of environmental information.