Is time running out for Freedom of Information?

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COULD time be running out for a long-awaited Freedom of Information bill?

Chief Minister Tony Brown insisted in the House of Keys that it was his intention to introduce the bill in the current parliamentary session.

But Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) pointed out that the legislation had to go through both the Keys and the Legislative Council and would need to be approved by Tynwald by July at the latest before going off for Royal Assent.

‘Is the Chief Minister aware we are now in the month of March? Unless a bill comes before the end of March, it is unlikely that the House will have time to consider all its readings, along with the Legislative Council to consider all of its readings, before this House dissolves,’ she said.

Juan Watterson (Rushen) also voiced misgivings. ‘Does the Chief Minister realistically expect that the bill will have received its three readings in the Keys before the end of the legislative session?’

But Mr Brown said the government remained committed to introducing a Freedom of Information Bill, that was ‘both practical and appropriate to meet the island’s needs’.

He said responses to a consultation exercise, some of which were quite detailed, had been collated but consideration of the comments received continued.

‘Our responses will be published once this work has been completed,’ he said.

This would take as long as it needed to take, he added.

He said there had also been a delay because a key officer had gone off ill.

And he pointed out the island did have an access to government information code which allowed for appeal to an independent commissioner.

Mrs Cannell said: ‘Now we are getting to the heart of the matter. Is the Chief Minister now telling the House he is quite happy with the code that currently exists, therefore there is no haste to bring this legislation through, despite the promises to the public?’

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