Prime Minister Gordon Brown has unveiled plans to extend the scope of freedom of information legislation in the wake of the MPs’ expenses scandal.
All bodies which spend public money could be subjected to FoI laws as part of a wide-ranging package of constitutional reforms designed to restore trust in the political system.
Currently the FoI Act extends to national and local government, but many so-called “quasi-autonmous” public bodies or “quangos” are exempt, despite spending billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money every year.
Now justice secretary Jack Straw is to carry out a review of the Act with a view to broadening its ambit.
Mr Brown told MPs today: “Given the vital role transparency has played in sweeping aside the discredited system of allowances, and holding power to account, I believe we should do more to spread the culture and practice of freedom of information.
“So as a next step the justice secretary will set out further plans to look at broadening the application of Freedom of Information to include additional bodies which also need to be subject to greater transparency and accountability. This is the public’s money. They should know how it is spent.”
In a Commons statement, Mr Brown also announced a reduction in the time limit for the release of official documents from 30 years to 20 years.
He also revealed that all MPs’ past and present expense claims would shortly be published online.
James Goffin (11/06/2009 20:08:04)
Read the small print.
He also said that Cabinet papers and documents relating to the royal family could be made completely exempt from FoI, whereas currently they are subject to a public interest test.
This makes the big decisions taken by government less transparent, and just saves them the embarassment of having to veto the release as Jack Straw did with cabinet minutes on Iraq.
The new 20 year rule is also five years more than recommended by Paul Dacre’s review, which Brown commissioned.
And don’t expect to find anything in MPs published expenses: all the interesting stuff has been blanked out already.