Freedom bill warning

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INTRODUCING legislation that would allow the public the statutory right to access information held by public authorities will cost the taxpayer a lot of money, Chief Minister Tony Brown MHK has said.

He said it would require an initial £2 million outlay to introduce the system and a further £1m a year to run the Freedom of Information system.

Mr Brown made the comments during House of Keys question time this week when he was asked by David Cannan (Michael) about the purpose of introducing the Freedom of Information Bill at the last sitting before September’s general election.

Mr Brown said he was honouring a commitment he gave earlier in the year to bring the bill before the Keys during this legislative session. In doing so, Mr Brown said members and the public could view the final format of the bill, which has been determined following extensive public consultation.

Mr Brown said the results of the consultation were to be published in full on the government’s website.

The bill establishes a statutory right for access to information held by public authorities. For example, it means the media or any member of the public could, in the public or their own interest, formally request government information. The legislation sets out the framework for such a request and for the way in which a public authority would be expected to respond.

At present, information can be requested under the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information but this does not provide a statutory right and is not as far reaching as the contents of the bill.

The UK already has FoI legislation in place and it is seen as a marker of open and accountable governance. The bill went on to receive its first reading later in the sitting.

It will now be for the next House of Keys to discuss its content, following the general election.

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