HL Deb 16 March 1999 vol 598 cc86-9WA
Lord Haskel

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans they have to encourage greater openness in the public sector to prepare for legislation on freedom of information.

Lord Hoyle

The Government's programme of constitutional reform seeks to involve people more closely in the decisions which affect their lives. Freedom of information is a fundamental part of that process and should significantly transform the relationship between citizens and the state.

The Government hope to publish a draft bill on freedom of information in May. We will allow for a period of public consultation, as well as appropriate pre-legislative scrutiny by the Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons.

Legislation while necessary is, in itself, not sufficient. There is a substantial programme of work needed to create a culture of openness in all public services and lay the foundations for the implementation of a future Freedom of Information Act.

My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has, therefore, established the Advisory Group on Openness in the Public Sector to advise him on the steps needed to be taken ahead of legislation. The group, which has already had an informal meeting to discuss its programme of work, is being chaired by Lord Williams and the membership is drawn from a variety of backgrounds. Some bring a specialist knowledge of an area of public service to the group's work, while others have a particular interest in freedom of information. Details of the membership of the group are being placed in the library.

The group's terms of reference are:

"To advise the Home Secretary on proposals for promoting cultural change in the public sector to foster a culture of greater openness.

To assist in the development of training and education programme for public servants to promote cultural change and facilitate the introduction of Freedom of Information.

To undertake other tasks related to the implementation of Freedom of Information as directed by the Home Secretary".

Copies of papers considered by the group and the minutes of its meetings will be available through the Home Department's website on the Internet. We expect the group to submit a report to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary before the end of the year, making recommendations on how he might facilitate an increase in openness in the public sector as a whole.

In the meantime, the Government are taking action now to extend openness and accountability. On 10 February, Her Majesty in Council approved an Order extending the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration to an additional 111 executive non-departmental public bodies and 47 advisory non-departmental public bodies, with effect from 15 March. By bringing these bodies within the Ombudsman's jurisdiction, this order has the effect of bringing them within scope of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.

The Code of Practice commits public bodies to:

give facts and analysis with major policy decisions;

open up internal guidelines about dealing with the public; and

give reasons with administrative decisions; and provide information about their service to the public (their costs, targets and performance and information about complaints and redress).

The code also sets out how public bodies should respond to specific requests for information from members of the public. The approach to the release of information is based on the assumption that information should be released except where disclosure would not be in the public interest. In the period before a Freedom of Information Act comes into force, the Government are committed to using the flexibility and discretion available under the code to release as much information as possible.


[Please note that the Home Secretary may appoint further members in due course]

  • Chair:
  • Lord Williams of Mostyn
  • Minister of State
  • Home Office
  • Members:
  • Mr. Andrew Adonis
  • Policy Unit
  • 10 Downing Street
  • Mr. Jonathan Baume
  • General Secretary
  • First Division Association
  • Ms Rowena Collins-Rice
  • Legal Adviser's Branch
  • Home Office
  • Ms Elizabeth France
  • Data Protection Registrar
  • Ms Aviva Gershuny-Roth
  • Former Head of Corporate Communications
  • The Energy Group plc
  • Mrs. Christine Gifford
  • Former Member of the Metropolitan Police Civil Staff
  • Professor Robert Hazell
  • The Constitution Unit
  • School of Public Policy, University College London
  • Mr. Lee Hughes
  • Head, Freedom of Information Unit
  • Home Office
  • Dr. Dilys Jones
  • Clinical Strategy Director
  • High Security Psychiatric Services Commissioning Board, NHS Executive
  • Ms Catherine Lee
  • Constitution Secretariat
  • Cabinet Office
  • Dr. Andrew McDonald
  • Head of Records Management
  • Public Record Office
  • Mr. John Mills
  • Chief Executive
  • Cornwall County Council
  • Ms Carolyn Sinclair
  • Director, Constitutional and Community Policy Directorate, Home Office

Santah Rasaiah (The Newspaper Society) and Maurice Frankel (Campaign for FOI) will attend meetings as observers pending publication of the draft FOI Bill.

  • Secretariat:
  • Ms Vivienne Edwards
  • Policy Manger, Freedom of Information Unit, Home Office
  • Telephone: 0171 273 3253
  • Enquiries:
  • Mr. Cliff Johnrose
  • Freedom of Information Unit, Home Office
  • Telephone: 0171 273 3602