FOI in Parliament: 9 – 17 October 2006

Here are some highlights from recent Parliamentary debate and answers:

17 October

Oral Answers to Questions – Constitutional Affairs

An interesting discussion yesterday about the Government’s proposed changes to the FOI law and why so many central government requests are managed by Ministers directly. The Government also revealed that the Information Commissioner’s office has received 4,292 cases since 1 January 2005, of which 30 per cent have related to central Government Departments and Agencies.

Written Answers: Vera Baird (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs)

“There were 4,293 requests made to Departments of State under the Freedom of Information Act during the second quarter of the 2006 calendar year. This represents a fall of 623 from the first quarter of the year, but an increase of 465 compared to same quarter of 2005.

There appears to be a slight increase in the underlying trend in Department of State request numbers. However, it is too early to be precise on this point, because year-on-year comparisons may be distorted by seasonal variations and atypical periods of activity.”

12 October

Written Answer: Bridget Prentice (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Constitutional Affairs)

“Between 1 January 2005 (when the Freedom of Information Act was introduced) and 10 October 2006 the lengths of time taken by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to reach decisions on requests for information under FOI legislation were:

(a) shortest = one day

(b) longest = 597 days

(c) mean (average) =118 days

All days are calendar days.

The Commissioner will shortly publish a report setting out the progress that the ICO has made in dealing with FOI complaints since the beginning of the financial year.”

9 October

Greg Hands MP asked whether the Government would designate the Improvement and Development Agency for Local Government as a public authority covered by the FOI law. Minister of State Harriet Harman said there were no plans to do so.

I might also mention that so far the Government has not once used its power under section 5 of the Act to add any new bodes to the Act’s coverage – despite the fact these bodies burn mountains of public cash.

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