§ Lord Lucas
asked Her Majesty's Government:
Whether they intend that Railtrack plc should be subject to the Freedom of Information Bill in respect of its statutory responsibilities for safety; and, if so, what other public companies they intend should be similarly subject to that Bill. [HL2528]
§ Lord Bassam of Brighton
The Freedom of Information Bill contains a provision in Clause 4 which permits the Secretary of State, by order, to bring within the scope of the Bill private organisations which exercise functions of a public nature. Before making such an order the Secretary of State will be required to consult every person to whom the order relates or persons appearing to him to represent such persons.
Before reaching a decision whether to make an order under this provision, the Secretary of State will, among other things, wish to determine whether designation of a body as a public authority, as defined in the Bill, will lead to information being obtained which is not otherwise available from another public authority and the regulatory burden which would be imposed on the private organistation.
In the case of private organisations operating in regulated sectors of the economy such as Railtrack plc, it is intended that information relating to its public functions which would be disclosable under the terms of the legislation would be available from the regulatory authorities. In the case of Railtrack plc, this will be the Office of the Rail Regulator and the Health and Safety Executive. If legislation regulating the flow of information contains unjustified statutory bars to disclosure, these will be amended by an order made under Clause 74 of the Bill.
Therefore, the Government are satisfied that it is not necessary to designate Railtrack plc as a public authority for the purposes of the freedom of information legislation.
With regard to other companies which we intend should be subject to the Freedom of Information Bill, I refer the noble Lord to the list attached to the reply I gave on 20 April (Official Report, cols. WA 123–28). This contains those bodies which we are presently minded to consult about designation as a public authority under Section 4 of the Freedom of Information Act after Royal Assent.