Thursday, May 20, 2010

Coalition programme for government on FOI and government transparency

'The Coalition: our programme for government' document published this morning (20 May 2010) promises to introduce a Freedom Bill and repeats the commitment to extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act made in the earlier Coalition Agreement and by the both parties.

A Freedom Bill was promised in the Lib Dem manifesto. A draft Freedom Bill published by the Lib Dems last year contained a number of proposals to strengthen the FOI Act such as removing the ministerial veto. See

The Coalition document also contains the 'right to data' and the proactive publication proposals from the Conservative manifesto. The relevant extracts of the document are:
We will be strong in defence of freedom. The Government believes that the British state has become too authoritarian, and that over the past decade it has abused and eroded fundamental human freedoms and historic civil liberties. We need to restore the rights of individuals in the face of encroaching state power, in keeping with Britain’s tradition of freedom and fairness.
  • We will implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties and roll back state intrusion.
  • We will introduce a Freedom Bill.
  • We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
  • We will outlaw the finger-printing of children at school without parental permission.
  • We will extend the scope of the Freedom of Information Act to provide greater transparency.
  • We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • We will protect historic freedoms through the defence of trial by jury.
  • We will restore rights to non-violent protest.
  • We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • We will introduce safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation.
  • We will further regulate CCTV.
  • We will end the storage of internet and email records without good reason.
  • We will introduce a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.
  • We will establish a Commission to investigate the creation of a British Bill of Rights that incorporates and builds on all our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights, ensures that these rights continue to be enshrined in British law, and protects and extends British liberties. We will seek to promote a better understanding of the true scope of these obligations and liberties.

The Government believes that we need to throw open the doors of public bodies, to enable the public to hold politicians and public bodies to account. We also recognise that this will help to deliver better value for money in public spending, and help us achieve our aim of cutting the record deficit. Setting government data free will bring significant economic benefits by enabling businesses and non-profit organisations to build innovative applications and websites.
  • We will require public bodies to publish online the job titles of every member of staff and the salaries and expenses of senior officials paid more than the lowest salary permissible in Pay Band 1 of the Senior Civil Service pay scale, and organograms that include all positions in those bodies.
  • We will require anyone paid more than the Prime Minister in the centrally funded public sector to have their salary signed off by the Treasury.
  • We will regulate lobbying through introducing a statutory register of lobbyists and ensuring greater transparency.
  • We will also pursue a detailed agreement on limiting donations and reforming party funding in order to remove big money from politics.
  • We will strengthen the powers of Select Committees to scrutinise major public appointments.
  • We will introduce new protections for whistleblowers in the public sector.
  • We will take steps to open up government procurement and reduce costs; and we will publish government ICT contracts online.
  • We will create a level playing field for opensource software and will enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller components.
  • We will require full, online disclosure of all central government spending and contracts over £25,000.
  • We will create a new ‘right to data’ so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis.
  • We will require all councils to publish meeting minutes and local service and performance data.
  • We will require all councils to publish items of spending above £500, and to publish contracts and tender documents in full.
  • We will ensure that all data published by public bodies is published in an open and standardised format, so that it can be used easily and with minimal cost by third parties.

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