Let me first say that I fully support freedom of information, as does the Government, but after more than a decade in operation it is time that the process is reviewed.
I know that the Government’s aim is to be as open and transparent as possible on the substance of information, consistent with ensuring that a private space is protected for frank advice. To that end, I think the Government must maintain the best environment for policy-makers to think freely and offer frank advice to decision-makers. The most effective system is when policy makers can freely give advice, while citizens can shine a light into government.
The Government has established an independent, cross-party Commission to review the Freedom of Information Act and to make sure it is functioning as intended. The Commission will consider whether there is an appropriate public interest balance between transparency, accountability and the need for sensitive information to have robust protection, and whether the operation of the Act adequately recognises the need for a private space for policy development, implementation and frank advice. The Commission received over 30,000 submissions and has decided to hold two oral evidence sessions in January 2016. The Commission will now report as soon as possible after these sessions. I look forward to the Commission’s conclusion and the Government’s response in due course.