The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (‘FOI Act’), introduced by the then Labour Government, is one of the most crucial pieces of legislation Parliament has ever passed. I believe 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. The Act was a great achievement and must be defended.
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 parity for mental health and physical health with the reality experienced by people across the country.
I share many concerns about the Government’s independent, cross-party Commission on the Freedom of Information, including its remit, composition and short time-frame. As I am sure you are aware, the Commission was set up in July 2015 to examine the implications and effectiveness of the FOI Act. The Commission’s consultation closed on November 20.
I would like to see the progress of the past decade in opening up government to more scrutiny built upon, with the FOI Act’s successes and proposals being considered in order to strengthen the Act. 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 this month, 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. However, it is important that any changes resulting from the Commission’s review do not weaken this crucial check on the power of the Executive.