The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘FOI Act’), introduced by the then Labour Government, is one of the most effective pieces of legislation Parliament has ever passed. The FOI Act has given the public, campaigners and the media a powerful tool with which to hold the Government to account and increase transparency. I have used the Act in my role as Shadow Mental Health Minister to hold the government to account for its failure to properly fund mental health and its failure to match its rhetoric of equality for mental health and physical health with the reality experienced by people across the country.
The Act was a great achievement and must be defended.
I share concerns about the Government’s independent, cross-party Commission on Freedom of Information, including its remit, composition and short time-frame. The Commission was set up in July 2015 to examine the implications and effectiveness of the FOI Act. The Commission’s consultation closed on the November 20.
We need to build on the progress of the past decade in opening up government to more scrutiny. There is a strong argument in favour of extending and strengthening the Act so that it covers organisations that are given public money, such as free schools, and companies that win large government contracts.
It is therefore welcome that my Shadow Frontbench colleagues have held their own public, cross-party review into the Act, which has looked at how we can strengthen the Act to properly include private sector contractors given public money.
I will look closely at both the Government and Opposition’s reviews and consider their findings. It is important that any changes resulting from the Commission’s review do not weaken this crucial check on the power of the Executive. I will continue to follow this issue closely.